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Position grades from 49ers-Cardinals: The running game came alive

The defensive line is graded on a curve

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers suffered another tough loss Sunday. San Francisco competed until the end against the Cardinals. Kyle Shanahan and the Niners will have to do some soul searching to get this team where it needs to be.

With that being said, we look at positional grades from the 49ers’ performance Sunday.

Quarterbacks: B-

Trey Lances’ first drive started well. He evaded the Cardinals’ blitz and scrambled for 14 yards on his first play as a starter. Then, however, he would throw an inaccurate pass to a wide-open Travis Benjamin that resulted in an interception on the same drive.

Lance had a few high passes, and Arizona was able to tip his passes at the line of scrimmage. Something with his throwing motion seems off.

He had a strong performance outside of those two problems. Lance had several precise throws. His velocity on throws cannot be matched by Jimmy Garoppolo. PFF gave Lance two “big-time” throws, which was two more than Jimmy Garoppolo.

I was off on the score prediction, but I said Lance would have around 15 carries. His legs showed how he could extend drives to keep the offense alive. Lance displayed toughness on his runs. I kept yelling at him through my TV go down. Especially after that grueling hit at the goal line. But he wasn’t fazed by any of the hits. Kyle Shanahan needs to get him in sliding school.
Running Backs: B-

Lance took on most of the running load with his scrambles and QB-designed runs. Elijah Mitchell wasn’t given the ball enough. He showed patience and good vision when he was handed the ball. Kyle Juszyck has continued to help the passing game. He is proven to be one of the best pass-catchers on the team.

Trey Sermon had one carry where he broke a tackle for seven yards. That came in the fourth quarter and was the only time Sermon touched the ball.

Both Mitchell and Juszyck held up well in pass protection too.

Wide receivers: C-

Drops hindered Lance’s performance Sunday. Deebo Samuel and Mohamed Sanu both had unacceptable drops in the first half. The wide receivers dropped three of their 18 catchable passes, which was tied for a team-high this weekend.

Sanu made up for a drop with his catch on 4th down. Samuel also made up for it with a few catches.

Brandon Aiyuk is still on a milk carton this season. Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs has more interceptions than Aiyuk has receptions. What’s going on there?

Tight ends: C-

Ross Dwelley’s holding call hindered his grade the most. His blocking wasn’t the best, but he didn’t get dominated at the point of attack.

There’s no replacing George Kittle. Dwelley and Charlie Woerner will both have to be safety valves for the quarterback.

Offensive line: C-

San Francisco faced a stout Cardinals defensive line. They weren’t able to get the best push on quarterback-designed runs in the first half. In the second half, the offensive line was a lot better at getting to the second level on the QB-designed runs.

J.J. Watt had had a day, and most of it came against Mike McGlinchey. McGlinchey had a rough set of plays on the Niners’ first offensive possession in the second half. He got called for holding on what would’ve been a Lance first down, then gave up a sack as Lance tried to step up in the pocket. On the next drive, he had a false start and was flagged for another holding penalty.

The offensive line was flagged five times. Trent Williams had two holding calls himself. One was declined as McGlinchey held on the play as well. Lance was able to evade most of the pressure Sunday. This line isn’t used to a quarterback moving around during pass sets. It will get better with time.

Defensive Line: C+

Will the D.J. Jones fans please stand up.

The defensive line did a solid job of holding their gaps. Arizona primarily tried to attack the edge. They ran outside zone, counters, and plenty of screens to avoid running into the heart and soul of the Niners’ defense.

Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, and Nick Bosa were all able to generate pressure. But Kyler Murray’s wittiness in the pocket erased most of their production. Bosa had another sack, and Jones joined the party. This is the best defensive line in football, and we’ll grade them as such.

Linebackers: C++

Fred Warner led the team in tackles. Warner’s play was pretty normal, and I can’t fault him for much. Azeez Al-Shaair has performed better in previous games.

The linebackers did a good job of limiting the Cardinals from attacking the edge in the second half. Marcell Harris didn’t have his sharpest game, but he was essential in forcing the run back inside.

Cornerbacks: D+

We knew going into the game that Arizona’s receiver room was the most complete group we’ll see. The Niners thought Josh Norman would be able to slow down DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins didn’t have a monster day, but he made plenty of meaningful catches while drawing penalties on Norman. I will give Norman his credit on the pass deflection at the end of the third quarter. Murray tried to target Hopkins deep, and Norman was in the perfect position for the breakup.

Dontae Johnson held Rondale Moore, and he still made a miraculous catch. Johnson struggled throughout the game, similar to Norman. However, he did get a key turnover around the nine-minute mark in the fourth quarter. Johnson stripped running back Chase Edmonds to give the offense the ball down seven to 10.

Emmanuel Moseley’s performance was the only reason this unit didn’t receive an F. And even he gave up a critical completion to Hopkins on the Carindals’ final drive.

The defense has suffered since K’Waun Williams went down. It may be time for DeMeco Ryans to give Deommodore Lenoir a shot at either Nickel or outside corner.

Safeties: C+

Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt didn’t have bad games, but their performances weren’t impactful. Murray previously had no trouble hitting deep passes against the opposing defense. His long on Sunday was 33. Outside of that, it didn’t feel like the Cardinals hit on many big plays. That’s a testament to the safeties of not allowing multiple deep completions.

Special teams: C

Both punter Mitch Wishnowsky and new kicker Joey Slye did their jobs. They received a C because they didn’t do anything exceptional. Wishnowsky pinned Arizona inside their 20-yard line once. Slye showed power on his 47-yard field goal, and that was it.

Aiyuk had two returns for six yards. He had another punt where he should have fielded the ball and let it bounce.

Conclusion

San Francisco went toe-to-toe with the lone undefeated team in the league. This three-game losing streak has been brutal, but the season is not over. The Niners have had a chance to win all of them.

Keep Lance in so he can continue to develop and give this offense a chance at being explosive. Shanahan signaling that Garoppolo is still the starter is part of being a head coach.