Instead of a Winners and Losers, we’re going to change it up and assign letter grades to each position. It’s a team sport, so the offensive line is going to have a lower grade as a unit, even if the left side played close to flawlessly. The same goes for the 49ers’ defensive line. The backups did not play well, but the starters were impressive enough to overcome them. Let’s start with the quarterback.
Quarterback - C-
Nick Mullens had some good moments on Sunday. I thought Mullens did a nice job on the play-action passes where he had to roll out. Instead of checking the ball down to the first level, Mullens kept his eyes up and found the open receiver at the second level. Mullens was also quick to get rid of the ball when the Cowboys blitzed him. The other play that stood out was the throw to Richie James along the right sideline when Mullens extended the play with his legs.
Mullens was worse when Dallas didn’t blitz or pressure him, which is not ideal. He went 16-20 for 172 yards and two interceptions on the plays Dallas didn’t blitz. The more Mullens plays, the worse his confidence gets, which is why it’s time for Kyle Shanahan to make a change. The turnovers haven’t stopped, and we haven’t seen any sign that they will.
Running backs - B
One of the few gripes I’ve had with Shanahan, the play-caller as Mullens has started, has been the lack of involvement with the running backs in the passing game. Kyle Juszczyk had a reception for 25 yards. Jerick McKinnon beat the blitz late in the game for a gain of 23 yards. The 49ers have capable backs out of the backfield.
On the ground, I felt like Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson Jr. looked like themselves as they both combined for over 70 yards after contact and ran for eight first downs. The duo combined to force five missed tackles and ran hard. They didn’t do anything fancy or highlight-worthy, but Mostert and Wilson Jr. were productive and steady.
Pass catchers - B-
Against Washington last week, Shanahan said the 49ers pass catchers accounted for nine drops. That’s brutal, and not how you help your quarterback. Jordan Reed was the only player with a drop on Sunday. I thought the receivers did an excellent job of making themselves available on scramble drills when Mullens was on the move.
Brandon Aiyuk drew a defensive pass interference and broke a couple of tackles on one play. Kendrick Bourne had that crazy catch on the hail mary but also had 23 yards after the catch. Four pass catchers had over 20 yards after the catch. Reed made up for a drop as he took a short pass on third down and turned it into a first down.
This group bounced back through the air, but their blocking has left a lot to be desired and has been a big reason why the perimeter run game has struggled this season. Whether it’s a tight end or a receiver, there have been too many missed blocks this season.
Offensive line - C
Poor Justin Skule. The 49ers were down to practice squad players or Skule and rolled with the player that’s been in the building all season. Dallas took advantage of Skule’s inexperience by running stunts his way, and Skule never adjusted. He allowed a pair of quarterback hits. Not because Skule was beaten 1-on-1, but because he didn’t pick up the defender looping around.
Watching the duo of Trent Williams and Laken Tomlinson execute combo blocks and play off each other has been fun this season. Knowing you don’t have anything to worry about on the left side would be a big reason I’d bring back Williams. Those two look like they’ve been playing together for years.
The same cannot be said for Mike McGlinchey. Athleticism has always given him fits, and that was the case Sunday against Demarcus Lawrence. There are clips of McGlinchey pancaking a defensive back and paving the way in the running game. In that sense, McGlinchey looks like a top-10 pick. Then you’ll see Lawerence get the best of McGlinchey in pass pro on a few reps that are ugly.
John Lynch said he’s going to ask McGlinchey to add weight this offseason. At this point, he is what he is. A dominant run blocker that can hold up as a pass protector but is going to get beaten against better competition. Is that worthy of a pricey new contract? The 49ers will have to decide soon enough.