It’s been quite an erratic few weeks for the San Francisco 49ers. After arguably the lowest point of the Kyle Shanahan era last week, the 49ers responded with a dominant 31-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Going up against one of the best teams in the NFL on Monday Night Football, the Niners answered the call.
Here’s how each position group contributed to the big win:
Jimmy Garoppolo was consistently good for the third consecutive week. Garoppolo was hyper-efficient, especially in the first half, and finished 15-for-19 with 182 yards and two touchdowns. This is the first time in Garoppolo’s tenure with the 49ers that he has committed just one turnover across a three-game span. Jimmy G never had to push the ball downfield but also never made any bad decisions and delivered some perfect tight-window throws on several big third downs.
Runnings backs: B+
While the 49ers' offense bowled over Los Angeles all night, the running backs' productivity came through volume more than efficiency. Elijah Mitchell needed 27 carries to rack up 91 yards, and Jeff Wilson Jr. amassed just 28 rushing yards on ten carries. Even fullback Kyle Juszczyk had just one reception for six yards.
Still, San Francisco’s backs never fumbled and did a fantastic job blocking for one another. There may not have been any big runs, but there were rarely any losses either. Shanahan’s refusal to integrate Trey Sermon into the offense meant that Mitchell had nearly 30 carries despite dealing with sore ribs, but there’s a separate conversation about Sermon to be had. The fact is Mitchell gave a commendable effort.
Tight ends: A-
George Kittle finished with five receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown, but his impact as a blocker was huge for the 49ers run game. Backups Charlie Woerner and Ross Dwelley lent a hand blocking as well, although they each recorded a penalty.
Wide receivers: A
Niners' receivers maximized their few targets on Monday. Deebo Samuel was obviously the star, hauling in all five of his targets for 97 receiving yards and the game-clinching touchdown while also rushing for 36 yards and another score on five carries. Brandon Aiyuk caught three of his four targets for 26 yards.
With Mohammed Sanu out with an injury, neither Jauan Jennings nor Trent Sherfield stepped up in his absence, leaving the void at third receiver unfilled. However, the presence of Samuel, Kittle, Aiyuk, and a competent run game made that a nonissue on Monday. If the 49ers are going to make a run this season, though, another receiver will probably need to emerge at some point.
Offensive line: A-
The 49ers' offensive line had some struggles in pass blocking, especially on the right side of the line after Jaylon Moore left with an injury. However, the Niners had a tall task going up against a line that features Aaron Donald and Von Miller. The 49ers dominated the time of possession early, with two long touchdown drives in the first half that combined to run 35 plays. The 49ers had just one third-and-seven (or longer) on those two drives. It was a credit to the line’s work upfront.
Defensive line: C-
Despite the Rams' weak final stat line, they actually did a fairly good job containing the 49ers' defensive line. Arik Armstead cooled off after a recent stretch of dominance on the inside. Nick Bosa dealt with chips all day and was even caught in chokeholds on multiple plays without drawing a flag. He managed one sack but was far from dominating the game. 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans tried some intriguing new stunts late in the game, including one that generated a sack for Arden Key, but the result had already been decided.
Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair recorded eight tackles apiece and made big plays all over the field. Warner’s biggest highlights came on a pair of deflections in coverage while Al-Shaair recovered from an early missed tackle to make several big open-field stops. Assuming Dre Greenlaw can return to the field at some point this season, Ryans will have three dynamic linebackers to deploy.
The 49ers' defense is built around covering up their weaknesses at corner. Even with a relatively quiet day from the defensive line, the Niners linebackers and safeties did enough to help Emmanuel Moseley, Josh Norman, and K’Waun Williams. To be quite frank, the Rams' offense looked out of sorts all night. Matthew Stafford was inaccurate and making questionable decisions while his receivers dropped multiple receptions. Nevertheless, after tanking the 49ers in multiple games this season, no one was thinking about the cornerbacks on Monday.
Ward was back in the starting lineup, and what an impact it made. Ward’s abilities in coverage and tackling are always vital for the 49ers' defense, but this Monday, he did something he rarely has: forced turnovers. Ward’s bad hands have been a running joke in San Francisco for years, but this week, Ward recorded two interceptions in the first quarter, including a pick-six. With Ward able to take on the tougher coverage assignments, Talanoa Hufanga was able to roam free and wreak havoc on multiple plays.
Special teams: B-
Dominant wins rarely have special team highlights, and that was the case on Monday. Still, besides a holding penalty on a big kickoff return by Trenton Cannon, they played a fairly mistake-free game. The 49ers' field-goal defense was prepared for a fake field goal attempt at the end of the first half. Kicker Robbie Gould never missed a kick, including a 50-yarder he made with ease.