Talk about a blown opportunity.
The San Francisco 49ers were in position to get back into the NFC playoff race but cost themselves with stupid mistakes in the 27-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Niners had two turnovers in the red zone and muffed two punts that set the Saints up with excellent field position.
San Francisco’s offense looked atrocious after an impressive opening drive touchdown. After taking a 10-0 lead, the 49ers were outscored 27-3 by New Orleans with future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees out for the entire second half. San Francisco quarterback Nick Mullens threw two picks while in Saints’ territory, and the mistakes on special teams killed any chance of pulling off the upset.
“I think it really came down to turnovers and that was most disheartening,” Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “If we took care of the ball with the effort that all the guys gave, I think it could’ve been a much different result.”
The turnovers were certainly costly, but Shanahan deserves some blame. His once-dynamic offense looks reminiscent of what we saw during the Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula days. There were few shots down the field, the running game looked anemic, and the lack of adjustments to the blitz made for an infuriating three quarters. His decision to stick with Mullens is also head-scratching.
Mullens looked timid as New Orleans relentlessly pressured the backup QB. ESPN’s Nick Wagoner sums up how bad Mullens was against the blitz after the encouraging first quarter.
First quarter: #49ers QB Nick Mullens was 4-of-4 for 27 yards and a TD against the blitz.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) November 16, 2020
Second-Fourth quarters: Mullens was 3-of-11 for 19 yards against the blitz.
Mullens was blitzed on 17 of his 41 dropbacks (41%), the second-highest rate he has been blitzed in his career.
Mullens finished the game 24-of-38 for 247 yards, with one TD and two picks, averaging just 6.5 yards per attempt. What isn’t shown in the stat line is how many bad throws Mullens made. The Saints could have picked him off at least three more times and if not for some circus catches by Brandon Aiyuk, Kendrick Bourne and Jordan Reed, Mullens’ numbers would have been a lot worse.
“Really frustrating, I felt like I did a good of protecting the ball throughout the game,” Mullens said. “Really frustrated with myself.”
The 25-year-old Mullens played well in the win over the New York Giants but has looked awful since. In his last three starts — all 49ers losses — Mullens is 64-of-99 for 738 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. His average QBR over the three contests is 26.4.
Sure, it doesn’t help when your starting running back averages 1.5 yards per carry on 18 attempts, but Mullens’ lack of arm strength makes it easy for opposing defense to crowd the line of scrimmage.
The Saints blitzed with corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson often, and each time they did, Mullens looked like he was standing in front of a freight train. He was scared, defeated and knew the result wasn’t going to be pretty.
Shanahan has his reasons for sticking with Mullens with Jimmy Garoppolo sidelined. C.J. Beathard isn’t the long-term answer and has his limitations, but why not give him the start when the 49ers return from their BYE Week to take on the Los Angeles Rams?
It will help to have Raheem Mostert or Tevin Coleman back in the lineup, but at this point how can Shanahan trust that Mullens will be able to lead the team to a win over a quality opponent? Mullens is 4-8 as a starter and has only beaten a team with a record above .500 once in his career, that came in 2018 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Missing so many skill-position players has been gutting for the Niners, but Mullens’ performance against New Orleans was inexcusable. The game was there for the taking due to the defense, but the offense couldn’t make a play to support them, and that falls on the quarterback.
We don’t know yet if Garoppolo will return this season, but with San Francisco’s playoff hopes hanging on by a thread, it might be time to roll with Beathard if Jimmy G is done for the year.
Who should be the starting QB for the. 49ers with Garoppolo out?
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