The San Francisco 49ers needed to beat the Rams in the manner they did. The offense came out firing on all cylinders, and the defense showed they could make enough plays and timely stops in the second half. As with any game, the lows are never as bad as they seem, and the same applies to the highs. Let’s get into the overreactions from Sunday night’s victory.
What a difference a week makes. As recently as Saturday, and probably Sunday morning, some fans felt like the team should pull the plug on the season and tank for a franchise quarterback. After a convincing win over the Rams—don’t be fooled by the scoreboard—the 49ers are a game out of the final Wildcard spot. The good news is the Niners control their destiny. San Francisco will play four of the seven this season between the current playoff teams, including Seattle, twice. Depending on how you view Arizona, who is a game above .500, the 49ers could knock them out as well. It won’t be easy, but all of a sudden, the path to double-digit wins looks feasible again.
Such is life in the NFL. After watching the Patriots, that feels like a game the Niners could win. They’ll always play Seattle close, and we saw the Packers look like the Packers on Sunday. One game at a time, but now that we caught a glimpse of what this team could be, it’s easy to be optimistic.
Jimmy is back!
Jimmy Garoppolo’s stat line looks great. He went 23-of-33 for 268 yards, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt with three touchdowns to three different receivers. Jimmy’s advanced stats were fine, too. His EPA per play was .37, with a completion percentage above expected at 1.1 and an estimated QBR of 80.8.
Context is everything.
When you watch the game, you could tell Kyle Shanahan was doing everything he could to ensure his quarterback did not lose this game. Get the ball out of his hands quickly and let your playmakers do the work. That was the first drive. On the opening drive, Garoppolo averaged -4.9 air yards per attempt, with all four of his passes going behind the line of scrimmage. Next-Gen Stats tweeted that Garoppolo averaged 4.4 air yards per attempt with 2.38 seconds to throw. Of Garoppolo’s 268 yards, 226 came after the catch.
It’s easy to spin that into, “he was trying to avoid Aaron Donald.” That’s fair, to a point. That’s also ignoring how Jimmy G has looked during his past nine starts. Even in this game, there were a few plays where you were worried about Garoppolo. This miss in the second half to Kyle Juszczyk cost the offense points. The throw to Trent Taylor near the goal line could have been intercepted—though giving a red zone target to Taylor is questionable. There were a few other throws where the Rams were this close to making a play. Garoppolo was 17/20 at halftime. In the second half, he was off.
Garoppolo’s best throw came on the fourth-down touchdown to George Kittle, where he did not flinch under pressure, knowing a big hit was coming. That’s the Jimmy this team needs. I’m in the minority, but the pass protection hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as fans believe. There were miscommunications here and there, but the quarterbacks have had time to throw. Next-Gen Stats measures time to throw, and coming into Sunday’s game, Garoppolo averaged 2.71 seconds to throw. That ranks him 18th and is also higher than last year when Garoppolo had 2.65 seconds to throw.
Jimmy was better than he was last week and played good enough to win, but the Niners will need their starter to resemble the player that won them the division in Week 17 of last year if the team is going to make a run.
The 49ers have solved their cornerback woes
Man. What a performance by the Niners cornerbacks versus the Rams. I know Emmanuel Moseley gave up that long touchdown, and there’s no excuse for that, especially at that point in the game. There is more than one play in a game, however. Moseley broke up three passes on the evening and was second on the team in tackles. Jason Verrett broke up two passes and had a brilliant interception. The 49ers did a nice job of keeping Jamar Taylor underneath in coverage—he broke up a pass as well. San Francisco didn’t just get competent play at cornerback; they got superb play.
If that continues, opposing quarterbacks life will be a living hell. The starters on the outside played fast, confident, and made the Rams wideouts earn everything. You couldn’t ask for a better performance. Now, we have to see this unit string together multiple performances, as we saw during Week 6. Health has been an issue for both starters, and we know how ugly it looks when the backups are on the field. Moseley and Verrett were great Sunday night, but with the Niners failing to register a sack, the cornerbacks may have to continue their stellar play. The 49ers face a tough slate of quarterbacks moving forward. This was the first of many tests.
JaMycal Hasty, RB2?
Raheem Mostert left with an ankle injury to begin the third quarter, and that’s when the offense became stagnant. Mostert’s 65 yards felt like 165 yards. He was running as tough as we’ve ever seen, and that translated into yards after contact. The 49ers drives after Mostert left: Three plays, punt. Three plays, punt. Seven plays, 28 yards, punt. Seven plays, 20 yards, field goal. You can’t go a second half where your best drive is 28 yards, and you score three points.
Is that all on Hasty? Absolutely not. Hasty and Mostert are around the same size, just over 200 pounds, but the feeling you get with Mostert is different than Hasty. I think the sky is the limit for the undrafted free agent, and he clearly has more juice than Jerick McKinnon, but I saw some overreactions saying Hasty shouldn’t leave the field. It’s evident that the 49ers are at their best when Mostert is on the field.
Now, should Hasty be RB2? You have a valid argument. Hasty made cuts against the Rams that few runners make. Don’t forget about Jeff Wilson, who makes the most of his opportunities every time he touches the ball. I’d argue that Wilson has the superior vision, though Hasty will make you miss. The 49ers have a good problem at running back. We’ll find out soon enough who will be the backup. Let’s hope Mostert isn’t out for an extended time. Kyle Shanahan will speak to the media around 3:30 p.m. PT to provide updates.