The 49ers' offense during the second half of the Bears game is how I expected them to look all season. Of course, the way Elijah Mitchell has been running the ball is how I expected Raheem Mostert to play, but it’s encouraging to see the rookie running back get better and better each week.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s game, starting with Mitchell.
Winners - Elijah Mitchell
Mitchell had nine carries for 92 yards and a touchdown in the 4th quarter, the most in that quarter in a game this season. In addition, Mitchell had 106 rushing yards before first contact, also the most in a game this season.
Michell’s 7.6 yards per carry didn’t come because of one long run. Mitchell had five carries that went for ten or more yards. When the 49ers’ running game is rolling, the entire offense opens up.
Per Next Gen Stats, 39% of Mitchell’s carries came with eight or more defenders in the box. That didn’t slow down Mitchell, who rushed for 54 yards more than expected. The next closest player to Mitchell had 19 yards over expected. The 49ers found a gem in the sixth round.
I’m well aware that the Bears were missing their best player on defense. It didn’t seem like Chicago blitzed the 49ers once. Garoppolo had all day to throw and, in turn, made several plays down the field because of it.
One of Jimmy’s best attributes is his mobility. Garoppolo was obnoxiously patient in the pocket Sunday, which is a great thing. Too often, at any level of football, you’ll see the quarterback leave a clean pocket when there’s no reason to. Instead, Jimmy stood tall when he needed, let the wideouts run around a bunch, and scrambled when there was no other choice.
That led to explosive passing plays to Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel down the field. Speaking of, check out Garoppolo’s throwing chart from Week 8, per Next Gen Stats:
Two things make this offense click on all cylinders. One is the running back mentioned above. Two is pushing the ball down the field. The illusion of throwing the ball down the field is equally as dangerous as completing those passes. That’s been one of the biggest gripes about Jimmy. On Sunday, he attempted seven passes over 15 yards. Only two of those were incomplete.
More of this Jimmy for the rest of the season, please.
The blocking on offense
We all saw how much time Garoppolo had to throw and the running lanes Mitchell had. That doesn’t happen without the guys up front. I don’t want to limit them to the offensive line as Kyle Juszczyk and Charlie Woerner was outstanding in their own right. Check out the blocking on this play:
Brandon Aiyuk comes from the right side of the formation to block the safety on the opposite side of the field. That effort has lacked, at least consistently, all season. We can highlight that the Bears are not a good team. That doesn’t take away from Woerner, Juice, Trent Williams blocking his man into the sideline, and Aiyuk on the play above.
Losers - Tackling
Fans were quick to revert back to “fire DeMeco Ryans” for 2.5 quarters Sunday. I don’t blame Ryans for poor tackling. Sure, you can coach it, but the players who missed tackles were free agents signed off the street and third-stringers in Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Marcell Harris.
When your backups are missing tackles, that’s not a coaching problem. The missed tackles were an issue against Justin Fields and Khalil Herbert. Had San Francisco made a couple of open-field tackles, Chicago stalls on two or three drives and aren’t in a position to kick a field goal.
You have Fields dead to rights on 4th & 1, but he made multiple defenders miss. That play stands out, but it felt as though Chicago made someone miss more often than not in the open field Sunday.
Replacing Flannigan-Fowles and Harris with Azeez Al-Shaair and Dre Greenlaw will go a long way in improving the tackling, but Jimmie Ward missing a couple of weeks puts more pressure on backups to perform.
No defensive pass interferences on Sunday. Yay! The 49ers still had three more than the Bears. Garoppolo scrambled for nine yards on 3rd & 14, giving Joey Slye a field goal opportunity. Trent Williams's holding negated Jimmy’s run, and Slye wound up missing a field goal a few plays later.
Chicago is in a 3rd & 9 situation, and Arik Armstead is called for a neutral zone infraction. They convert on 3rd & 4 and wind up punching it in for a score later on the drive. There’s a substantial difference in how both sides of the ball approach 3rd & 4 compared to 3rd & 9. Perhaps, you get a sack on the latter down and take the Bears out of field goal range.
You can go down the line with each penalty to see how the domino effect hurt the 49ers. Against the Cardinals and the Rams, these penalties will come back to bite them.
Finishing drives in the first half
San Francisco didn’t have any issues moving the ball to start the game. The problem was finishing. If you look at the previous Bears game, Tampa Bay scored 35 points in the first half. The 49ers had opportunities to score at least three touchdowns but wound up settling for field goals. Their final score of the half doesn’t happen without a deep heave to Deebo.
Before the holding call on Williams, an awkward-looking bubble to Samuel went for -4 yards. That can’t happen. Jauan Jennings not getting off a jam on the second down of the following drive forced another 3rd & 9, which led to a field goal. Mohamed Sanu’s drop on the third drive would have led to a red zone trip had the offense picked up another first down. Instead, Slye kicked a 52-yard field goal.
We saw what happens with the offense when they execute in the second half. Penalties and mistakes cost them in the first half. Finding consistency will be critical if this team is going to make a playoff run.
What we saw Sunday was the 49ers' best players make plays. Nick Bosa stepped up with a pair of sacks. Deebo Samuel still averaged 17 yards per reception if you remove his 83-yarder. Brandon Aiyuk converted a few first downs, and Garoppolo gave them an opportunity. Mitchell’s five carries over ten yards helped create it all.
It sounds simple, but the formula for the Niners' success is for their best players to continue playing at a high level to mask deficiencies at other positions.