The San Francisco 49ers have managed to rattle off three straight wins to start the 2019 season. They’re one of eight teams still undefeated through Week 3. It wasn’t pretty, but the 49ers’ survival against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday was impressive in its own right - including a rowdy Levi’s Stadium crowd.
Here’s our stock report after the 49ers’ 3-0 start for the first time since 1998:
Stock up: The franchise
Forget the box score. Sunday may have been Jimmy Garoppolo’s most impressive game in a 49ers uniform. The franchise quarterback showed a grit we haven’t yet seen as he made throws under pressure, took plenty of hits and trusted his healing ACL as he maneuvered around the pocket. Both of Garoppolo’s interceptions hit the hands of his intended target but were deflected into the waiting arms of Steelers defenders. Jimmy G’s impressive afternoon culminated with a gusty throw into traffic to receiver Dante Pettis for the go-ahead score with 1:20 remaining. Garoppolo’s ability to continue to drive the offense forward in spite of five total turnovers is a good sign for the 49ers’ leading man.
Stock down: Ball security
The first five drives for the 49ers on Sunday resulted in four turnovers and a punt. The team turned the ball over five times in total. Running back Matt Breida bobbled a pass from Garoppolo into the air only to be snatched away by Pittsburgh defensive lineman T.J. Watt. Wideout Dante Pettis deflected a ball over the middle that was caught by Steelers defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. Running back Raheem Mostert broke into the second level only to have the ball knocked away on a hit from Fitzpatrick. Garoppolo was involved in two backfield fumbles in the first and second half. The 49ers seem like an emerging contender, but they can expect to lose if they author a similar performance against a more capable team.
Stock up: Resilience
If there’s one positive to take away from the 49ers’ willingness to give the ball away, it’s the resilience of the team showed afterward. Four turnovers in the first half resulted in just six total points for the Steelers, the defense responding with stubbornness after every turnover. On Mostert’s fumble in the red zone, the 49ers running back fell to his knees in disappointment, only to be immediately picked up by tight end George Kittle, patted on the head and escorted back to the sideline. When the offense fumbled late in the fourth quarter, defensive lineman Arik Armstead responded by punching the ball free from Steelers back James Connor just a couple plays later, setting the offense up for the game-winning score. The 49ers’ ability to overcome adversity is a positive teaching point for Shanahan.
Stock down: Secondary
The back half of the 49ers defense was playing well through the first two games of the season while shutting down the Steelers for most of Sunday. Outside of one big completion for a touchdown to Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, the trio of cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams, and Richard Sherman were effectively stifling Pittsburgh’s passing game. That is, until Witherspoon was lost to a foot injury. The Steelers immediately targeted replacement Jason Verrett, who on consecutive plays gave up a deep pass interference penalty followed by a deep completion for a touchdown. The 49ers are expected to be without Witherspoon for at least a month, per Shanahan. In the meantime, it’ll be a competition between backups Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley for the starting role. Defensive back Jimmie Ward, returning from a broken finger, may also play into the mix.
Stock up: Laundry
The 49ers totaled 20 penalties for 162 yards over the first two games of the season. A combined four touchdowns were taken off the board due to flags against the Buccaneers and Bengals. The growing pile of dirty laundry was a bad habit for the 49ers, and it was only a matter of time before it cost them a game. Fortunately, that trend reversed a bit against the Steelers. That number fell to five on Sunday for 71 yards, with a large chunk coming on cornerback Jason Verrett’s pass interference call late in the second half.
Stock down: Pass Protection
Mentioned earlier, the Steelers threw the house at the 49ers offensive line, sending pressure on the majority of snaps. Garoppolo was hit eight times, sent scrambling even more, and went down for one sack. It was an acceptable performance for the 49ers’ offensive line given the talent level of Pittsburgh’s defensive front, but it also causes for concern if this will be the new normal moving forward. Joe Staley remains sidelined with a fractured fibula in left for at least another four to five weeks with rookie sixth-rounder Justin Skule filling in. Garoppolo handled the pressure, but keeping the 49ers quarterback upright and in the pocket will be a priority moving forward.