The 49ers are back to their normal selves. It is harsh to say but since the beginning of last year, most losses came exactly like this one against the visiting New York Giants. Close game, showing the NFL what this team is capable of at its peak, leading at one or multiple points, but usually folding like a camping chair at the end of games. And again, the 49ers were not awful. In the third quarter, they even looked like they could run away with this game. However, they did not. Let’s have a look at the things the team did well and, well, not so well.
The motor of the offense did not stop. By motor I mean first and foremost the offensive line. While this week the unit was not as strong in the run game, they were very good at keeping QB Nick Mullens clean and upright. This was the first time since Kyle Shanahan is the head coach that the quarterback did not get sacked in back to back games.
However, motor of the offense does not just mean the offensive line. RB Matt Breida and TE George Kittle continued their strong performances, with Breida racking up 132 total yards and 2 touchdowns and Kittle hauling in 9 of 10 targets for 83 yards.
Fred Warner needs to be singled out as well here. He was all over place stopping explosive plays from happening. He was sure in his tackling of Saquon Barkley and broke up two passes in coverage as well. He was one of the few bright spots in this game.
Led by Warner, the run defense in general had another good game. Robert Saleh prides himself in that and it shows why. Saquon Barkley had only 67 yards on he ground and the Giants as a team had a total of 97 rushing yards.
Robbie Gould is still gold, especially from 50+ yards. He attempted 5 kicks, converted all of them and his longest connection came from 53 yards away. This was his 8th attempt from 50 or more yards that he converted.
The 49ers need to select a playmaker on offense in an early round in the upcoming draft. It is becoming more and more clear that the drop-off in talent to players not named Kittle or Breida is big. Goodwin is a fine player but not a true WR1. Pettis has not shown too much since coming back from his knee injury. James and Bourne are fine as well but the 49ers need more than fine. Both Goodwin and Bourne deflected passes that ended up being interceptions, one of them deep in the own half of the field. The team just cannot bank on those players magically getting better once Jimmy Garoppolo steps back on the field.
Receiver is not the only position that needs heavy investment in. In games not played against the Oakland Raiders, the 49ers have accumulated 17 sacks in 9 games. That is not good. Last week showed what this defense needs and that is edge rush. Without it, the entire system does not work, and coverage gets exposed. This was apparent in every game in which the 49ers did not generate pressure from the outside. Cassius Marsh and Dekoda Watson are role players at best.
Until the 49ers fix their pass rush flaws, it is tough to be too harsh on defensive backs, especially if they have to deal with Evan Engram, Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard. This is arguably one of the best receiving groups in the entire NFL with Beckham being arguably the single-best wide receiver there is. They gave Sherman, but Witherspoon and Williams especially, a lot of headaches.
The absence of Raheem Mostert was immediately made felt, just like last year when he missed his first game against the Chicago Bears and Tarik Cohen ran all over the place on punt returns. This time was no different. Mostert is one of the best gunners in the NFL and the 49ers just could not replace him. This allowed big returns, the longest coming right after the 49ers had just gone up 10 points. 51 yards later the Giants were in prime position to start their eventual touchdown drive that immediately cut the lead to three points again.
Penalties. They were an issue last year. The 49ers were one of the least disciplined teams to start the 2017 season. It was an issue that got corrected over time but with the start of the 2018 season it re-emerged. And again, the 49ers seemingly had it under control, getting penalized just three times in last week’s win against the Raiders. Yesterday was a different story, though. A total of five penalties handed the New York Giants first downs, four of which came on positive plays for the defense and three on 3rd down. To make it worse, two of these penalties came on the last drive for the Giants which led to the game winning touchdown.
That said, not all blame has to be put on the 49ers. Usually when you see a Hochuli being the referee, you expect top-notch performance. This was not the case with Shawn Hochuli, son of now retired Ed Hochuli. Several of the aforementioned penalties were more than harsh and usually do not get called. Additionally, the crew missed a couple penalties on the other team, among those a block in the back penalty. Since some of these penalties came in crucial times, some 49ers players were understandably angry after the game.
Once again, the 49ers found a way to lose. While some of the fans might like that for the draft position in the upcoming draft, the players and coaches sure are frustrated, as am I to be honest. Once again this was a game that had single players standing out, not units except the offensive line. Until this changes, good performances from a few players will not be enough to compensate for a bad team around them. The return of Garoppolo and McKinnon should help next season but that is only on offense. Those two alone also cannot fix the lack of playmakers in the passing game besides Kittle. They also cannot fix the lack of edge rush on defense. Those are the main flaws on this 49ers team and until the front office addresses them, get ready for some more games like this one.