This week, I decided to take reedkrase’s advice and alternate between uplifting and deflating plays. The complaints from last week’s 14 plays seemed to backfire as Jimmy Garoppolo reverted to making rookie mistakes against Seattle.
Below are ten plays Niners fans will love or shove from the gut-wrenching road loss.
Seahawks fake punt after SF defense forces 3-and-out
DeMeco Ryans’ defense forced a three-and-out to start the game, and the special teams unit said it was not good enough. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan expected Brandon Aiyuk to make an impossible play with several players running with a full head of steam towards him.
San Francisco’s subpar special teams unit has several dark moments this season. The touchdown could have been avoided if the Niners did not double the gunners. Unfortunately, this was one of the many special team blunders Sunday. Travis Homer’s 73-yard touchdown run ruined the defense’s three-game streak of keeping teams under 100 yards in a game, and they weren't even on the field.
D.J. Jones’ forced fumble in Seattle territory
D.J. Jones has been monumental for San Francisco’s defense the last three seasons, and he may finally get the flowers he deserves this year. Jones stripped Gerald Everett immediately after he blew up a running play for a tackle for loss on Seattle’s second offensive drive. As mentioned earlier, Homer’s special teams' touchdown skewed the defense's rush yards.
The Niners did not allow a rush longer than 12 yards outside of the special team's mishap. Jones’ impact against the run is why he was my unsung hero during the 49er's three-game winning streak.
Russell Wilson threads the needle against Cover 1
Losing Emmanuel Moseley for multiple games hurts the defense. When Moseley exited the game in the second quarter, Ryans turned to rookie Deoomodre Lenoir. Lenoir looked to be one of the steals in the 2021 NFL Draft earlier in the season but fell out of the rotation after the Packers game.
This play was deflating because Lenoir could be a good corner, but a simple mistake in his technique cost him on this rep. DK Metcalf’s jab step opens up Lenoir’s hips to give him a free release on his go route. According to NextGen Stats, Wilson threaded the needle before Jaquiski Tartt gets there, giving the catch a 29.4% completion probability.
Kittle tight ropes the sideline for a 48-yard touchdown
George Kittle erupted with five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the first half Sunday. Kittle was unstoppable in the first half, and offensive struggles in the third quarter would limit him to no catches. This touchdown was uplifting in many ways. For me, it looked like the leader of the YAC Bros had returned. The Niners will need Kittle’s contributions for the rest of the season to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Garoppolo gets sacked for a safety after a huge defensive stop near the goal line
Usually, I would blame sacks on Garoppolo’s poor pocket presence, but this play is deflating for several reasons. First, the 49er’s offense was set to start the second half, but a Travis Benjamin fumble on kick return would halt that. Everett’s crucial drop on 3rd and goal allowed K’Waun Willams to intercept the pass giving San Francisco the ball on their five-yard line.
Tom Compton gets steamrolled by Carlos Dunlap, allowing Dunlap to sack Garoppolo for safety. The offensive line was solid through their recent winning streak, but this is just unacceptable.
Arden key leads the way for the 49ers team sack
San Francisco’s pass rush has been underwhelming outside of Nick Bosa this year. The defensive line as a whole wins this matchup in this uplifting team sack. Sunday’s four sacks are the most the Niners' defense has gotten since their Week 9 loss against the Cardinals.
This sack came on third down after the Garoppolo safety showing that this defense is capable of getting stops. The Niners need the pass rush to continue to play at a high level to make it easier for the bruised secondary.
Jimmy, what are you doing, man?
I have no idea what Garoppolo is thinking here. This deflating play is one of the few examples of why Shanahan needs to move on from Garoppolo. The first three possessions of the second half ended in a Benjamin fumble, a Garoppolo safety, and then this interception.
These three deflating scenarios helped hold the offense from scoring in the second half. And it shows how this team has continued to be undisciplined throughout the season. I knew the weight of the offense would be on Garroplo’s shoulders entering the game. Let’s all hope Garoppolo recovers next week, or the play Trey Lance crowd will be live in effect.
Azeez Al-Shaair is quietly one of the best linebackers in the NFL this year
Azeez Al-Shaair has flown around all year. His forced fumble in the fourth quarter would give Shanahan’s offense its last shot at winning the game. Ryans’ defense has stopped offenses near the goal line multiple times this year.
Again, shows that this defense is resilient (at times) and has given San Francisco's offense plenty of chances this year. I thought this would be a year that the offense carries the team, but the defense has been the backbone despite the constant injuries.
Norman gets cooked
This play is an example of the chemistry between Wilson and Tyler Lockett. Lockett’s release gave him a step on Josh Norman, and Wilson delivered a perfect throw. This play is deflating because Norman is the top corner remaining with the injury to Moseley. In addition, Norman has constantly struggled with savvy route-running receivers and continues to struggle on deep targets.
The Cincinnati Bengals receivers are all capable of dynamic plays. Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tyler Boyd all have receptions of 30+ yards this year. Norman and the secondary will have another huge test in guarding another talented receiving core.
Shanahan aggressive on the first down from SF’s 2-yard line
Shanahan aggressively started the Niners' final offensive by asking Garoppolo to throw from his endzone. Kittle had four catches on the final drive, but Garoppolo did not target him near the goal line. The 49ers are 1-4 when Kittle has over 130 receiving yards—weird stat.
This 29-yard catch jumpstarted the 95-yard drive where the Niners fell short with a pair of Trent Sherfield targets. Shanahan going scoreless in the second half falls on him. We have praised him for his balanced attack in the last few weeks, but Garoppolo could not elevate the offense when the rushing attack became stagnant Sunday.
These ten plays do not tell the whole story of Sunday’s chaotic loss. San Francisco finds itself as a bubble playoff team instead of taking a step forward and showing they belong in the playoffs.
The Bengals' offense brings several mismatches to the 49er's defense. Stopping the run and limiting explosive plays will be the first two steps in getting a victory. Pass rushers winning reps will help speed up Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow’s process. Cincinnati has a turnover in their last eight games, with the offense having four last week. Ryans’ defense will have to carry the load again to put this team in a position to win.