One thing was clear as we watched the San Francisco 49ers undress the New England Patriots: These weren’t the Patriots of yesteryear. It didn’t take long to realize the Niners were the superior team, and kudos to San Francisco for doing what good teams are supposed to do: smack around inferior opponents. It appears that the 49ers are a different team after they were the ones smacked around against Miami. Let’s hope this type of “bully ball” continues moving forward.
Here are the winners and losers
The coaching staff
The 49ers came out firing on all cylinders for the second week in a row and were prepared to attack the Patriots on both sides of the ball. Credit Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh for having their units ready to go. The defense held New England to 1-for-6 on third down. Forcing four turnovers isn’t sustainable, but not allowing big plays and keeping the Patriots out of the end zone is as good as it gets for a coach.
Offensively, the 49ers scored on four of their first five possessions. They did it in different ways, which speaks to the versatility on this side of the ball.
back-to-back plays.— KP (@KP_Show) October 26, 2020
First play uses motion, DE gets caught in no man's land, and now you have a #'s advantage on the edge.
Next play, similar design. 85 runs a “bluff slant,” where he fakes like he’s blocking then runs a route.
Shanahan ran circles around Billy B pic.twitter.com/QyOliiXgqf
The offense was successful on 59% of their plays, which was second in the NFL during Week 7. They’re building an identity on offense, which might force Shanahan to adjust again with Deebo Samuel expected to miss two weeks.
The offensive line
Shanahan was running everything from lead zone to counters, and that’s because he has an offensive line that can execute on any style of run play. One play, you’ll see Trent Williams pulling from the backside of the formation. The next play, you’ll see Kyle Juszczyk coming from across the formation to bury a defensive back. The athleticism of this group cannot be understated as the reason they’ve begun to play well. The Niners were third in rushing success rate and EPA during Week 7.
The ground game had 36 carries and averaged 5.5 yards per carry while New England went out of their way to stop the Niners running game. It didn’t work. Add that to Jimmy Garoppolo only being sacked once, and that was the only time he was hit, and it was a flawless performance.
With Nick Bosa out, you could make a strong argument that Warner has been the best player on the team. George Kittle will have something to say about this, but he’s not the only player on the roster that’s the best at his position in the NFL. Warner had 1.5 stops in the first half. He had a blitz where he beat a running back. Warner showed off his skills in coverage, as he always does. The interception highlighted Warner’s awareness, but it’s plays like these that make Warner an All-Pro:
2nd & 8. Edelman isolated against a linebacker. Edelman runs a return route, his bread, and butter. The linebacker not only takes away the target, but he undercuts the route, and the QB has to scramble. pic.twitter.com/G8LRKnuIXv— KP (@KP_Show) October 26, 2020
Warner is a superstar.
The pass rush
These trade talks aren’t going to go anywhere, so long as the pass rush keeps playing the way they are. During the first half, the only player who recorded a win as a pass rusher along the defensive line was D.J. Jones. I understand the team has been hit hard by injury, but they still have two first-rounders on the defensive line. Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw play the run like first-rounders, but they’re not rushing the passer like top picks. The 49ers need their best players to step up; that way, the Kerry Hyder’s’ of the world aren’t forced to be the top option.
The thought of giving Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers time to throw over the next two weeks is terrifying.
Jeff Wilson Jr.
On Friday, Shanahan said Wilson Jr. was working off to the side for about ten minutes, and he was hopeful Wilson Jr. would be able to play against the Patriots. Wilson Jr. had eight more carries than any other running back and averaged 6.6 yards every time he touched the ball. Wilson Jr.’s 70 yards after contact and four forced missed tackles were impressive. Converting six rushes into first downs with three of those going for more than ten yards shouldn’t be overlooked.
There were multiple carries when Wilson Jr. showed why he was Shanahan’s top choice headed into this game: Because of his vision. Wilson Jr. resists all temptation to bounce a run and finds ways to get up the field when it doesn’t appear that a crease is there for him to hit. Wilson Jr. will be missed.
We got our first real glimpse of why the 49ers took Aiyuk in the first round. Sure, we’ve seen him score on screens and show off his athleticism on jet sweeps, but we saw Aiyuk used as more of a traditional receiver against the Patriots. He did not disappoint. Aiyuk has the speed to run away from any defender on crossing routes. He came open thanks to a rub route down the field on the 38-yard reception where Aiyuk did a nice job of tracking the ball over his shoulder.
On the third-down interception in the first half, Aiyuk ran a double move to the top of the screen that was precise. He was skipping up and down after the play, upset he wasn’t targeted.
the first play doesn’t bother me as kittle was open and the primary read.— KP (@KP_Show) October 26, 2020
the second one hurts because the pats blitz, making deebo the “hot read,” and at worst, he picks up the 1st down. his reaction is hilarious. looks straight to the bench. https://t.co/JdyE0VcnQi pic.twitter.com/FD1N3alQ7U
He wasn’t the read, so it’s tough to get upset at Jimmy for not throwing Aiyuk the ball. It’s promising to know there is a receiver on the roster that can win against man coverage at every level, though.
Aiyuk continues to progress and look confident. On the curl route he caught and another catch over the middle, Aiyuk was comfortable enough to catch the ball away from his body. Six receptions for 115 yards, with five of them going for first downs and making two guys miss after the catch is impressive. If I’m the “Russian judge,” Aiyuk has to fight for that ball at the end of the half. Other than that, he was superb.
The second-string secondary
San Francisco was without 80% of their Week 1 starters in the secondary against New England, but you’d have no idea by the way they covered. There were two coverage busts all game. I think Saleh will take that outcome. Jamar Taylor had two interceptions, but he was also active as a tackler around the scrimmage line.
Marcell Harris had the one blown coverage that could have been a big play, but he’s a missile when he’s around the line of scrimmage. Harris had one play where he read run, shot the gap, and you could see the impact of his hit.
While Taylor had the two picks, Tarvarius Moore was the best player in the secondary on Sunday. His closing speed will always be eye-opening. One play, Moore came down as the low-hole player and jumped a crossing route. He broke up the pass with his hit that Moore timed perfectly.
This play was my favorite of the day, though. New England has the ball on their first possession. It’s 3rd & 4, and Hyder is caught in man coverage as Saleh uses one of his patented “2-under ‘creeper’ blitz” that looks like a zone blitz, but the underneath defenders are in man coverage, the safeties are free to “poach” or jump routes, and Warner is effectively a QB spy. Knowing the Patriots don’t have wideouts who can separate consistently, both safeties leave the cornerbacks on an island.
Moore recognizes that Hyder is manned up against a running back, and as soon as he sees Cam Newton raise up to throw, Moore teleports from point A to point B and prevents the first down. The Patriots punted on the next play.
Keep that type of speed on the field for the next two weeks, please, and thanks.