In their first primetime game of the season, the 49ers fell 30-28 to the Packers. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers took advantage of a heavily depleted San Francisco secondary all game and was unable to come out on top despite occasional offensive spurts. While San Francisco led a late-game comeback that nearly pulled out a victory, the Niners’ mistake-laden play earned the result they received. Here’s a deeper look at each position group’s performance:
I predicted the 49ers would win on Sunday, but I was cautious because I thought head coach Kyle Shanahan would have to play Trey Lance more to open up the run game. Instead, Lance only saw the field on a pair of snaps (one of which resulted in a touchdown), and the Niners’ fate was in Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands.
The 49ers' running attack wasn’t effective early, and Shanahan turned away from the ground game when they fell behind. Without a balanced attack, Garoppolo threw the ball 40 times on Sunday. He’s only attempted 40 passes in a game four times in his career. There’s a reason why.
Garoppolo made several bad decisions, including a late-game fumble that led to a Green Bay field goal. Ironically, his lone interception might have been one of his best throws of the day. Garoppolo floated a 48-yard throw to a streaking George Kittle down the middle of the field with pressure in his face. The throw was on target and could have been a game-changing completion. However, cornerback Jaire Alexander made an incredible play, coming from the backside to cut Kittle off and intercept the pass.
The interception was far from an egregious decision (or throw) from Jimmy G, but it illuminated so much about his limitations as a quarterback. Garoppolo lacks elite arm strength and anticipation. He made the right read, delivered an above-average throw (for his standards), but that still left an opportunity for the defense to make a play.
Running backs: B-
Rookie Trey Sermon received the start, but an early drop and bobble seemed to leave Shanahan a bit gunshy. With the Packers jumping out to a sizable early lead, Kyle Juszczyk saw significant time in the backfield as an extra pass blocker and receiver.
Shanahan will probably be criticized for going away from Sermon for much of the first half, but Sermon is the 49ers' fourth-string running back. The Packers' defense did a good job shutting down Shanahan’s outside zone attack, and he opted to rely on the far healthier passing attack.
Things opened up a bit for Sermon in the second half, but his first start lacked a standout play. Juszczyk, though, made a massive impact out of the backfield. He hauled in four receptions, including the 49ers' late-game touchdown that put them ahead 28-27 with 37 seconds remaining in regulation.
Tight end: B+
On Sunday, George Kittle finally got going as a receiver, leading the team in receptions (7) and receiving yards (92). There aren’t many ball carriers who are funner to watch in the NFL than Kittle, and he added a couple of plays to his highlight reel. Of course, his performance would be an A for almost any other tight end in the league. However, whether it was playcalling, quarterbacking, or Kittle himself, it still felt like the offense could have gotten more out of him matched up against Green Bay’s linebackers and safeties.
Wide receivers: B
Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and Mohamed Sanu didn’t put up exceptional numbers. Still, for the first time all season, no one should be talking about any invisible performances by the 49ers receivers. Samuel mishandled one pass from Garoppolo but easily made up for it with a pair of impressive catches in traffic throughout the game. Frankly, all three of the Niners’ primary receivers on Sunday made at least one catch that bailed out an errant throw from Garoppolo.
Offensive line: D+
The 49ers' offensive line was fairly mediocre in pass blocking, but the Packers' pass rush is one area in which Green Bay has heavily invested. What stands out as a particular disappointment from the line was its inability to generate consistent holes on run plays. Perhaps things would have improved if San Francisco had stuck with the ground game longer, but they failed to capitalize on the opportunities they received.
There were a pair of concerning fundamental mistakes that are worth keeping an eye on. Center Alex Mack miffed one shotgun snap and cost the 49ers on a third-and-short by seemingly snapping the ball early. Even star left tackle Trent Williams, who did have a good game overall, missed edge rusher Preston Smith entirely on one play, allowing an easy sack on Garoppolo.
Defensive line: C-
Nick Bosa got off to a strong start, making several plays early, but the Niners pass rush was surprisingly quiet against a young and inexperienced Packers’ offensive line. Nevertheless, it’s unfair to say they didn’t make an impact on the game. Arik Armstead pushed the Packers out of field goal range on the 49ers' only sack of the day, and it was easy to see how most of Green Bay’s play calls gave their quarterback quick outlets to avoid any pressure. Obviously, a late-game sack might’ve won the 49ers the game. Samson Ebukam might have done just that if he wasn’t held on the first play of the Packers’ game-winning drive. Nevertheless, the pass rush missed their opportunity to seal the game.
Much like Kittle on the offensive side, linebacker Fred Warner has been solid all season but hasn’t been the dominant force he’s capable of being. With a depleted cornerback group and a defensive line unable to dominate the game, Warner was probably the defense’s last best shot to slow down Rodgers. Instead, Warner committed an out-of-character pass interference penalty on tight end Robert Tonyan and was just a few inches away from tipping Rodgers’ final completion to Davante Adams, which set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal.
The 49ers lost Jason Verrett in their first game and now had to face off against Aaron Rodgers, Adams, and the Packers' versatile group of pass-catchers. It was already going to be a challenge to slow down Green Bay’s offense, and then starters K’Waun Williams and Josh Norman were both forced out with injuries. With Emmanuel Moseley, Deommodore Lenoir, and Dontae Johnson the only remaining healthy cornerbacks on the roster, the 49ers' secondary was scrambling. Rodgers fairly easily picked the unit apart, and the Niners also committed some sizable pass interference penalties. However, it’s hard to harp too much on this group, given the circumstances.
Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are asked to do a lot in the 49ers’ defensive scheme. The team’s issues at cornerback have only put more pressure on the duo. After an exceptional game in Philadelphia last week, Ward and Tartt were more good than great against Green Bay. But, facing off against Rodgers, that wasn’t enough.
Special teams: A
While it will not garner much attention after the loss, 49ers’ special teams' coordinator Richard Hightower deserves a lot of credit for the unit’s work over the past couple of weeks. After a shaky start to the season in Detroit, the Niners have churned out several big plays on special teams. Trenton Cannon had the highlight play, setting the 49ers up for their first touchdown drive with a 68-yard kickoff return towards the end of the first half. However, Aiyuk also returned two punts for 23 yards, Mitch Wishnowsky averaged 53.3 yards a punt, and Robbie Gould was perfect on extra points. They have to sort out the rest of their roster, but this looks like an elite special teams group.