It's finally clicking for the San Francisco 49ers. Building off a huge win against the Cincinnati Bengals last week on the road, the Niners returned home and carved up the Atlanta Falcons in a 31-13 rout. Now head coach Kyle Shanahan will look to keep the team's winning ways going on Thursday against the Titans.
Here's how each position group contributed to the victory:
Since his early-season struggles at quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo has found another gear, but his performance this week was his best of the season. Garoppolo was hitting receivers in stride more consistently than I've seen in some time. His 78.3% completion percentage and 10.2 yards per attempt are two obvious standout stats, but the fact that none of his throws gave the defenders a chance for an interception is what ultimately pushed his grade up to an A.
Garoppolo missed some open receivers early, but his accuracy and unusual aversion to putting the ball at risk more than made up for it. While Garoppolo technically recorded a fumbled snap, center Alex Mack never gave Garoppolo a chance to grab the ball, catching the ball on the side of his leg.
Running backs: A
Without Elijah Mitchell, there were legitimate concerns about the 49ers running attack heading into Sunday's game. However, going up against the Falcons defense, which has ranked near the bottom of the league in most key categories all season, Jeff Wilson Jr. finally looked like the difference-maker he was in 2020. Wilson rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and took advantage of the Niners' dominance up front.
For added measure, Ja'Mycal Hasty rushed for 13 yards on his only carry while fullback Kyle Juszczyk ran for a 6-yard touchdown.
Tight ends: A
George Kittle would have eclipsed 100 yards receiving had the game played out differently, but with a double-digit lead for nearly the entire second half, the 49ers kept the ball on the ground. Still, when Garoppolo dropped back to pass, Kittle was again a force. He hauled in all 6 of his targets and amassed 93 yards receiving while continuing to dominate as a blocker.
There were a few plays where Kittle seemed to be favoring his injured shoulder, which is an even larger cause for concern than usual heading into a short week. But regardless of his health status, Kittle continued playing like the best tight end in the NFL.
Wide receivers: B
The 49ers' receivers were fantastic in run blocking once again, and Deebo Samuel continued making his case for Offensive Player of the Year. Samuel finished the game with four receptions for 60 receiving yards and six carries for 29 rushing yards and his 7th rushing touchdown of the season (12th total).
Garoppolo missed an open Brandon Aiyuk a couple of times throughout the game, but his lone reception was a big 36-yard pass that sparked an early scoring drive.
Jauan Jennings finished with three receptions for 28 yards and a touchdown but continued to struggle with drops.
Offensive line: A
Wilson was rarely touched in the backfield running the ball, and Garoppolo consistently had a clean pocket to throw from. It's hard to ask for more from an offensive line. Aside from Mack's bad snap, the Niners' offensive line rarely made a mistake up front. Even the right side of the line, where Dan Brunskill and Tom Compton have had some significant lapses, consistently dominated the Falcons front seven.
Defensive line: A+
Arden Key's breakout since shifting inside on passing downs continued on Sunday when he recorded his fifth sack in the 49ers' last seven games. It was not just that play when Key was causing problems, though. He had a great third-down sack taken away by a questionable at best roughing the passer penalty, recorded a tackle for loss, and had several other pressures.
Samson Ebukam also put together another solid performance rushing on the opposite side of Nick Bosa. Ebukam made quick work of Falcons tight end Haydon Hurst when Atlanta tried to isolate them in pass blocking and recorded a sack for the second-straight week. Ebukam has not been the breakout player many 49ers hoped he would be this season, but after an abysmal start to the season, he's emerged as a solid contributor.
When you have that many positive things to say about the 49ers' defensive line before mentioning Arik Armstead or Nick Bosa, you know it was a long day for their opponent's offensive line. Bosa continued his unreal season, notching his 15th sack of the season and forcing a fumble in the process.
Fred Warner was back at peak form. He finished with nine tackles, a fumble recovery, and was a blur covering ground against the run and pass. Without Azeez Al-Shaair or Dre Greenlaw, the Niners turned to Demetrius Flanagan-Fowles and Marcell Harris, who were fine. They combined for just four tackles.
The defensive line's dominance helped cover the secondary's continued woes. K'Waun Williams did continue his strong play in the slot. Given the 49ers' injuries at linebackers, it should not be understated how Williams' effectiveness against the run enables DeMeco Ryans to play nickel without worrying too much about the run. Josh Norman was far from perfect, but his veteran savvy helped him utilize his pass rush's dominance well. The other starting cornerback, though, rookie Ambry Thomas, was embarrassed by Falcons' receivers throughout the game.
There's a separate conversation to be had evaluating Thomas' performance from a projection standpoint. Unlike many veteran corners, including Norman, who have played for the 49ers this season, Thomas was rarely far out of position and did a good job sticking with Atlanta's receivers in coverage. However, his lack of physicality at the catch point undid most of his good work. The Falcons figured that out as the game went on and found success targetting the rookie in the second half.
If he can combine his positioning with some more aggressiveness, Thomas has the potential to be a solid corner. For now, though, it's some potential that fell far short in the present.
The 49ers' safeties are asked to do a lot to make up for their shortcomings at corner by defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. They were solid against Atlanta but were less exceptional than in recent weeks. Jimmie Ward made a rare costly mistake, cheating up in cover 3, which allowed Matt Ryan to complete a 49-yard bomb to Olamide Zaccheaus.
Jaquiski Tartt was solid at the other safety spot, but the Niners continue to rotate rookie Talanoa Hufanga for Tartt to mixed results. Many of the Falcons' biggest plays came with Hufanga on the field in place of Tartt. While there's an obvious benefit to getting young players added reps, it will be interesting to see if they phase Hufanga out as the postseason nears.
Special teams: F
After the Bengals special team's collapse last week, the 49ers special teams was back on the wrong side of things. Ja'Mycal Hasty fumbled the opening kickoff return for the 49ers only turnover. Then, Mitch Wishnowsky recorded a 39-yard punt from deep in the Niners' territory and struggled to reach the endzone on his kickoffs. The Falcons started outside their own 30 on three of the 49ers' six kickoffs. When you lose the field position and turnover battle on special teams, it's hard to find much positive from that performance.