San Francisco’s horrifying fourth quarter allowed the Lions to close in on a 41-17 lead. A win is a win, though, and there were plenty of positives in the game.
Let’s get into my five takeaways from Week 1.
The defense has to play with better consistency
I charge the defense not playing at an elite level to Week 1 rust. No way would I have thought San Francisco would sacrifice 33 points to a weaponless Lions offense.
Jaquiski Tartt started the game with a few key stops. But, on the contrary, he gave up a touchdown against T.J. Hockenson. Jimmie Ward had a near interception and is usually a sure tackler but had an inexcusable missed tackle on a screen to Lions running back DeAndre Swift that went for a 43-yard touchdown.
Initially, it felt like the Niners couldn’t stop the run. Jamaal Williams averaged six yards per carry. It felt like he gashed the defense on each of the first three drives. Center Frank Ragnow and Detroits’ offensive line were successful in getting to the second level forcing the 49ers linebackers to get off blocks — which they didn’t.
The fourth quarter meltdown wasn't caused by the defense, but they were on the receiving end of it. Cornerbacks Ambry Thomas and Dontae Johnson both gave up big plays that contributed to touchdowns. In addition, the depth at cornerback is severely threatened—more on that below.
Why Trey Sermon missing Week 1 is concerning
Raheem Mostert left the game early. Mostert is the best running back the Niners have. Unfortunately, the injuries are becoming concerning and are happening too often. The Niners have a well-built running back room, yet Mostert sets the tone when running the wide zone.
Questions rose after poor play and injury from second-round pick Aaron Banks in the preseason. The right guard position has questions, but it isn't as glaring as the cornerback depth or drafting a running back, especially when Kyle Shanahan gets the most out of UDFA running backs.
San Francisco traded up for Sermon, and the thought was that he could bring a different element to the running game. Landing as a healthy scratch for your first NFL game is not ideal. Sermon has no choice but to step up now that Mostert is hurt.
Elijah Mitchell made history in his rookie debut. Since the merger drafted in round four or later, he was the first rookie to rush for 100+ yards in a season opener. Mitchell’s explosiveness on his 39-yard rushing touchdown could be one of the reasons he started ahead of Sermon. I thought Mitchell would contribute to special teams before hearing Sermon would be a healthy scratch. Good for Mitchell.
When Mostert went down, Mitchell took on the workload like a starting-caliber running back. JaMycal Hasty didn't even have to relieve Mitchell though he did get a near-goal line touchdown on his lone carry.
The 49er pass-rush will have to prop up the defense all season
San Francisco's defensive line had nine quarterback hits Sunday, and they came up big to seal the game. Kentavius Street got his first career sack in the absence of Javon Kinlaw.
In the second quarter, Dee Ford showed up big time on back-to-back drives. Both plays coming on third down. First, he got pressure on Jared Goff, forcing him to throw a pick-six. Then he would get a sack forcing a punt where the Niners could get a field goal out of the drive.
Samson Ebukam continues to grow. His last-second pressure ultimately sealed the game for San Francisco. Nick Bosa flashed play after play in a marquee matchup against Penei Sewell. Seeing Bosa and Ford on the field together was good news for the defense.
Will the Niners trade for a cornerback?
Losing Jason Verrett to a torn ACL stinks. It hurts the already depleted cornerback group, but it really hurts to see Verrett get hurt after making it through so many career setbacks. Verrett played at an All-Pro level last season. The cornerback room will have to rally around each other to make up for his absence.
Initially, the signing of Josh Norman was a so-so addition, but now it turns to good insurance. The Niners will need Norman to play at a high level to aid this secondary. Norman spoke on how this system could be better for him because “he always wanted to drop out and not really midpoint.”
Again, getting Emmanuel Moseley back is vital. Shanahan mentioned that “he hasn’t ruled Richard Sherman out.” Getting Moseley back is more important, although bringing Sherman back would be a solid move.
Through all of the worries, Deommodore Lenoir played exceptionally well in his rookie debut. In 55 coverage snaps, he allowed one catch for three yards while being targeted four times. Lenoir continues to be a key draft piece this year.
Have to figure out a better rotation for a 2-QB system
After a botched snap in the first quarter, Jimmy Garoppolo went on to have one of his most efficient games as a 49er. Garoppolo had a great game in part of Deebo Samuel. I was wrong about the under, but I totally predicted Samuels career day.
It was two things that stood out in Garoppolo’s play. His movement in the pocket and his decisiveness. I knew that he was dialed in when I saw him hit his check down on third down with a free Blitzer running to him.
The plays were predictable when Trey Lance got on the field. Although, his first NFL pass went for a touchdown. Shanahan will have to figure out a solution when putting Lance on the field. What I liked most Sunday was that Shanahan let Garoppolo stay in his groove.
The defense will get better with time. Losing a player, the caliber of Verrett hurts, but it could make this team stronger. Also, having a strong pass-rush will hide the secondary woes at times. Bosa, Ford, and Ebukam seem like they will be the top producers in pass-rush production.
Having two quarterbacks who can play is a good thing. If Shanahan wants both of them to play well, he will have to incorporate Lance in a better fashion. Don’t be surprised if you see both of them on the field simultaneously for a trick play next week.