As is the case with most things in life, whenever you have a chance to look back on something, it’s never as good or as bad as you initially thought. For the 49ers, that’s true for the offense. Not so much for the defense, as they may have been more impressive than I initially thought.
Let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers from San Francisco’s win over Philadelphia.
K.I.S.S. That’s what Ryans did against the Eagles. On early downs, he played a 2-high safety shell to protect the defense from the threat of the play-action pass.
Jalen Hurts seemed gunshy during Week 1 to pull the trigger over the middle of the field. His passing chart from Next Gen Stats echoes this:
On obvious passing downs, Ryans either rushed five and played man coverage behind the blitz or would have both edge rushers playing contain and force Hurts to win with his arm. Ryans’ plan worked:
Hurts would look to leave the pocket and throw outside of the numbers more often than not. Against man coverage, throwing the ball outside of the numbers makes for the most challenging completions. The defensive line generated just enough pressure on Hurts, but it was the coverage and contain that did the trick. Kudos to Ryans for implementing the perfect game plan for Hurts.
Hurts is a dynamic athlete. Those types are going to make plays. The 49ers' defense did more than enough to limit Hurts and the Eagles' offense.
I could name most of the defense in the winners' section. You have to start with Armstead. He routinely bulldozed Philadelphia’s guards all afternoon. Nick Bosa had the two sacks, but Armstead made more of an impact. Armstead gets credit for a hockey assist on Bosa’s second sack for pushing the center and guard into Hurts’ lap so he had nowhere to step up.
He chased Hurts from the pocket. On the 91-yard pass, Armstead walks the guard back into Hurts’ face and sends him flying backward. The entire defensive line flashed, but none more than Armstead.
Jimmys and Joes
Ryans deserve credit for the game plan and for putting his players in positions to succeed. Those players won their 1-on-1 battles time after time. The same goes for the offense, too.
I could name about 15 plays on defense where a 49ers defender beat their man 1-on-1. It wasn’t the usual suspects. Sure, you can afford to run Cover-1 when you have the luxury of sliding Jimmie Ward into the slot to guard DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, or Zach Ertz.
You can load the box near the goal line knowing Fred Warner won’t fall for the play-action fake and erase their tight end in coverage. Both of Bosa’s sacks ended drives, but it was Arden Key and Kentavius Street who did the same on a few separate drives.
Speaking of the defensive line, it’s time we give D.J. Jones his flowers. The physicality was off the charts Sunday, and Jones nobody on the field was more physical than Jones. After Armstead, Jones won the most upfront.
On offense, those short passes don’t work without Deebo Samuel and George Kittle breaking tackles and turning three and four-yard gains into six and seven-yard gains. The blocking clips from Kittle and Trent Williams pancaking or escorting defenders out of the stadium will never get old:
Watch the left tackle. He should be fined for *not* taunting after this pic.twitter.com/2Iu6usorck— KP (@KP_Show) September 21, 2021
Talent will only get you so far, but it was enough to secure a victory against the Eagles.
The running game
The one thing that didn’t change after re-watching the game was the lack of running game. The 49ers are 15th in rushing EPA and 16th in rushing success rate this season with five explosive running plays, which is 13th in the league. San Francisco’s rushing DVOA is 16th, too.
We’re used to a Kyle Shanahan offense being top-7 in each of those categories. I detailed earlier how the lack of deep passing is affecting the running game. This may be too harsh on Elijah Mitchell, but Raheem Mostert runs for 100 yards against the Eagles.
I jotted down three specific carries where he had massive cutback lanes or Mitchell didn’t follow the block of fullback Kyle Juszczyk. I’m not sure if Mitchell is playing with tunnel vision or if he’s worried about getting north and south as a runner, but the running lanes are there, and that’s why JaMycal Hasty had a 21-yard scamper.
San Francisco’s running backs had a 20% success rate when they carried the ball Sunday. That can’t happen again.
Too many third downs
Usually, the more third downs you have the worse you’re doing on early downs. Take a look at the 49ers' early-down pass rate, per RBSDM:
Out of nine potential scenarios, the 49ers only pass over its expected output on 2nd & 8+ or after rushing for a first down.
For reference, a list of teams that average more than 14 third downs per game:
Los Angeles Chargers
That’s not the list you want to be associated with. The 49ers are 19th in the NFL in third-down conversion rate through two games. That number is sure to improve, but it goes to show how challenging converting third down after third down is.
These early running plays are putting pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo and the passing game to convert. Against Philadelphia, the offense’s success rate on early running downs was a lousy 27%.
Shanahan will have to throw the ball on early downs to avoid getting stuck with third and long situations. The current “run-run-pass” offense won’t cut it against the NFL’s best.
Shanahan spoke highly about how Tartt and Ward handled their 1-on-1 coverage down the field in difficult positions against wide receivers. Watching those two cover wideouts 40 yards down the field, run down a receiver, and then beat blocks at the line of scrimmage will always impress.
Tartt blew up a 3rd & 1 play which forced a punt. Ward took away DeVonta Smith in the slot on one play which caused Hurts to hold the ball. Those two are special players.
Josh Norman’s pass interference calls will be what everyone remembers, but you didn’t hear his name called after that and there was a reason why. Nobody got open on him.
Deommodore Lenoir had a bullseye on his back against the Eagles. Philadelphia targeted him eight times. You can’t erase the 91-yard pass Lenoir gave up. It’s all about bouncing back, and the rookie cornerback gave up next to nothing after that. On seven other targets, Lenoir allowed 23 yards and broke up three passes while also showing up in run support.
That bullseye isn’t going anywhere for Lenoir as he’ll see plenty of Davante Adams, D.K. Metcalf, Tyler. Lockett, DeAndre Hopkins, and A.J. Green over the next three weeks.
Jimmy Garoppolo for 2.5 quarters
Garoppolo took some hits that affected his throws Sunday. He also missed some open throws that he’d want to have back. In one play, Jimmy G went the wrong direction which all but ruined an opportunity for a first down.
I thought once the four-minute offense took the field before the half and beyond was where Jimmy took his game to another level.
From avoiding rushers to pulling the trigger and fitting the ball into tight windows, Garoppolo did what the 49ers needed him to do.
Will his misses be a thing that Shanahan has to coach around? That’s something to keep an eye on. As long as those are happening, fans will want to see Trey Lance, despite him not playing against the Eagles.
There were more good plays than bad, and his good was excellent, which is why Garoppolo finds himself as a winner.