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Winners and losers from Monday night: Giving credit to the Bills

While past two fifth-round picks of the 49ers struggled

Buffalo Bills v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There weren’t too many winners for the San Francisco 49ers from Monday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills. There were plenty of performances that helped contribute to the ten-point loss, however. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from the game.


Brandon Aiyuk

Aiyuk picked up where he left off with five receptions, each going for a first down or a touchdown, for 95 yards. There was a critical drop that led to a touchdown, but there were also plays we’ve seen from Aiyuk which we haven’t seen from a rookie receiver in a long, long time:

The 49-yard catch highlighted Aiyuk’s athleticism. Every other clip from the tweet above showed a different skillset from Aiyuk, who continues to progress as a receiver.

Laken Tomlinson

Tomlinson isn’t perfect, but he hasn’t been far off as of late. There was a play in pass protection where Tomlinson was “free,” and instead of sitting there, Tomlinson found someone to block. The result? A highlight type of block where he laid out a Bills defender. He didn’t allow any pressure on 40 pass-blocking snaps and continued to excel at combo blocks with both Daniel Brunskill and Trent Williams.

I wish the 49ers could clone Tomlinson and put him on the right side.


The secondary

Heading into the season, we expected the secondary to struggle, or at least have question marks as the defensive line made life easier on them. It’s been the opposite this year if you ignore Miami and a handful of highlight plays.

Against the Bills, the 49ers secondary had more coverage busts, blown assignments, poor play in one game than we’ve seen in the past month. On the play below, two players could have played this better:

That was the theme on Monday night. It didn’t look like the secondary was on the same page with each other at all.

Richard Sherman explained that another coverage mishap that led to a touchdown was ‘palms.’ He said that one player played one coverage on that play, while another played a different coverage. On that same play, Dontae Johnson was supposed to blitz, but he didn’t. On one play, three members of the 49ers made mistakes. With the way Josh Allen was playing, the last thing the Niners could afford was giving him a freebie.

PFF didn’t charge Tarvarius Moore with a missed tackle, but there was a play early in the game where Moore had a free shot at the running back in the backfield and didn’t lay a hand on him. Moore also gave up nearly 100 yards in coverage and a touchdown. Sherman also gave up a touchdown in man coverage, while Jason Verrett allowed 85 yards on ten targets. You’re afforded a bad game here or there. Unfortunately, it was the majority of the secondary.

Colton McKivitz

Going from Laken Tomlinson on one side, who continues to play at a high level, to Colton McKivitz, who looks like a rookie, is quite the difference. McKivitz will have reps in pass protection where his feet cross over. There’s a reason he’s getting beat multiple times a game and giving up pressure, and McKivitz’s technique is the reason. McKivitz looks like a fifth-rounder. Most of McKivitz’s blunders turn into disasters for the offense. His missed blocks, like one near the goal line, lead to negative plays. San Francisco is going to have to invest in a right guard this offseason.

Dre Greenlaw

Greenlaw hasn’t played well this season, and that continued against the Bills. Greenlaw’s hesitation is killing the defense. It was the reason he allowed a touchdown near the goal line and the reason the Niners gave up a few first downs on the ground. The issue is when Greenlaw doesn’t attack the line of scrimmage, he allowed the offensive line to get to both him and a combination of Fred Warner or Marcell Harris.

Slow-playing the run is turning gains of two into four yards. Next Sunday, watch Greenlaw’s “trigger.” It seems like he’s overthinking instead of playing, and it’s causing Greenlaw to play slow. That didn’t happen last year, but it’s been on display all season. PFF only charged Greenlaw with one missed tackle, but he had another where Cole Beasley caught a pass and turned upfield where Greenlaw was juked and didn’t lay a hand on Beasley.

Greenlaw must get back to his rookie ways of playing fast.

Giving credit where credit is due

I saw a lot of fans who were quick to ignore everything Robert Saleh has done this season. He was out-coached. It happens. It wasn’t as if Saleh wasn’t changing up his looks. The 49ers rotated from a single-high safety to two-high, alternated different coverages, blitzed, played man coverage, played zone. Nothing was working.

Saleh may have stayed in zone coverage too long, at least for one drive, but it was evident that Saleh didn’t trust his cornerbacks against the Bills wideouts. They were all winning against the Niners. Sherman looked a step slow, while Verrett was struggling to stay in phase as well.

Kerry Hyder, Arik Armstead, and Jordan Willis combined to drop into coverage on six plays. The 49ers run simulated pressures and zone blitzes every game to keep the offense off-balance. It felt like the Bills took advantage whenever a lineman dropped into coverage. Saleh tried, but he either struck out or Josh Allen and the Bills were a step ahead of what the 49ers did.