If you looked at the box score for the quarterback, you’d think he played well. However, if you only watched the defensive cutups for this game, you would have thought the 49ers took care of the Seahawks with ease.
There were a handful of impressive performances Sunday. But, unfortunately, those were erased by errors on special teams and cornerback play that will make you pull your hair out. So let’s start with the good because there was plenty of that.
Winners - George Kittle
The 49ers ran a reverse and gave the ball to their tight end. But, of course, when dealing with an elite athlete, you find ways to get him the ball. Kittle was targeted 12 times Sunday and finished with nine receptions for 181 yards to go with two touchdowns.
Kittle’s athleticism is unheard of for a tight end. He tight ropes down the sideline for a long touchdown on one play and will turn around and block your defensive end into the sideline on the next. There’s no way to mimic a player that versatile.
Kittle continues to be excellent as he’s scored a touchdown in four of his past five games.
D.J. was spectacular. He had seven tackles, including two for a loss. Jones added a pressure on the quarterback as well as forcing a fumble on a hustle play in which the 49ers turned into points.
On a down-to-down basis, Jones has been one of the best run defenders in the NFL. The splash plays continue to happen, so D.J. is getting the recognition he deserves. Where I’m most impressed is when he beats a double team to make a tackle. Near the goal-line in the fourth quarter, the 49ers don’t turn the ball over without Jones making stops on the previous plays.
Azeez’s college coach shared Ty Austin’s excellent spotlight article on him:
49ers news: Azeez Al-Shaair’s mindset of perseverance is turning him into a star before our eyes - Niners Nation https://t.co/2gbvTcXahg— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) December 7, 2021
Al-Shaair is reckless and fun to watch. That’s why I gravitate toward him. But, of course, it helps when you produce. Azeez filed up the box score as he had 16 tackles, including two for a loss, forced a fumble, was credited for half a sack, and found ways to get involved in the passing game. His effort and closing speed are a thing of beauty to watch.
There will be missed tackles, but that generally still ends in a positive play for the 49ers. In a game where the defense needed somebody to step up in Fred Warner’s absence, Azeez did just that. Oh, and he was this close to his second game in a row with an interception.
Sports Info Solutions has a total points saved metric that’s similar to “WAR,” or wins above replacement. Al-Shaair ranks third among all linebackers. Al-Shaair has earned the playmaker role.
Losers - Special teams
We don’t need to spend too much time here, as we just discussed potentially moving on from Richard Hightower. Everything about the 49ers' special teams continues to be a disaster. It’s not as if it’s only the kickoff team or the punt return unit. It’s every phase of special teams.
There is nothing that gets under my skin more than a cornerback celebrating after he would have given up a big play:
I wrote about the 49ers CBs.— KP (@KP_Show) December 7, 2021
I made a video about the 49ers CBs.
Pull up a chair, turn the sound on, and listen to me talk about one of the worst plays in sports: When a CB celebrates after he is beat in coverage https://t.co/MhFjBHv50vhttps://t.co/LXARnMaj4D pic.twitter.com/CqDsHBq4Z2
Norman would eventually give up a touchdown, miss a tackle that led to a touchdown, as well as surrender two more first downs in coverage. Instead, he should have looked toward the sky, thanking the football gods that Russell Wilson threw that pass out of bounds.
Garoppolo finished the game with two touchdowns and threw for nearly 300 yards on 10 yards per attempt. On the surface, you’d think he played OK. Then, you realize 55% of his yards came after the catch, and two of his turnovers were as head-scratching as they come — even for Jimmy, and you wonder why we are still doing this dance.
Much like Norman, I don’t blame Jimmy nearly as much as the coaching staff. This is who Garpoppolo is and always has been. The only thing that changes weekly is whether the defense catches the ball or if he’s bailed out. Against Seattle, other mistakes by the team made it impossible to overcome Jimmy’s mistakes.
Our Rich Madrid put together a thread of the yards Garoppolo left on the field Sunday:
Cement feet. Statue. Go make play. Improvise. Leave the pocket. Do something other than this. pic.twitter.com/h3BNLAGOSW— Rich (@richjmadrid) December 6, 2021
The 30-year-old quarterback continues to make rookie mistakes and play timidly. For a few weeks, the game script allowed the 49ers to throw the ball under 30 times. That’s not realistic. You’re not going to be able to punch opposing defenses in the mouth and run the ball over 40 times. When Garoppolo has thrown the ball over 30 times this year, the 49ers record is 1-3, with the lone victory coming against the Eagles in Week 2.
After the game, Trent Williams said, “they just crowd the line of scrimmage, crowd the box, and bring linebackers downhill really quick. Teams are going to play us like that to try and stop the run.”
Not having Deebo Samuel hurt, but the Seahawks were a bottom-five defense across the board. Sunday was a quarterback issue, not a Deebo one.
The defensive line was phenomenal. D.J. Jones, Nick Bosa, Arden Key, Charles Omenihu, and Arik Armstead were lights out. They controlled the line of scrimmage and got after Russell Wilson while giving up next to nothing on the ground. As a result, Seattle’s offense averaged 2.8 yards per carry.
I’m not overreacting to a divisional loss, as frustrating as it was. The 49ers made every mistake in the book. When that happens, you don’t win the NFL. Because this team is so talented, they will always be competitive.
The Niners are a playoff team. They are also a rollercoaster. If this team wants to play into January, finding consistency without making the boneheaded mistakes must happen. It hasn’t yet.