Well That Was Unexpected: 49ers Pitch an Opening Week Shutout
It's a late, cool Boise night. The windows are open and the light breeze is hitting my feet. The stale biscuit-fizz taste of Hamm's is still lingering in my mouth, and I'm still wearing my Joe Montana jersey. It's 11:40pm MDT, so it's going to be a long Tuesday. But the San Francisco 49ers started off this season with a shutout, so whatever hangover I face tomorrow is worth it. Almost.
Before we start jumping on the Blaine Train, let's take a breath. Ready? Inhale... good.
Now exhale. Let's not bury the lead here, and all hail the Gabbert Era! Or should we?
Blaine Gabbert was exactly how you'd expect: He was just above the Alex Smith Line (read: Mendoza Line) of an average quarterback. He was 22 of 35 for 170 yards, one TD pass and tacked on 43 yards on the ground. Just because I love history, Kaepernick had similar numbers to start last season off: 17 of 26 for 165 yards in the air, zero TDs, and 41 yards on the ground.
The 49ers defense was outstanding all game, holding quarterback Case Keenum to 130 yards in the air and picking him off twice, while holding Todd Gurley, last year's offensive rookie of the year, to a meager 47 yards rushing.
Considering how vanilla the 49ers defense was last year, it was fun to watch them mix coverages/blitzes and swarm to the ball carrier. The 49ers defense had two huge interceptions from Navarro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong, while Jaquiski Tartt nearly took off Keenum's helmet on a blitz in the 3rd quarter. It was a fast, aggressive defense that hasn't been this much fun to watch since the Super Bowl run.
But, the story all offseason was the quarterback position. Yeah, I buried this part of the post... mostly because the defense played so well.
On the 49ers first series, Gabbert under threw Torrey Smith on a rocket (or bubble screen), and then threw short of the sticks on a 3rd and 2. Just flipping through my notebook, I find about 9 times where Gabbert was either short of the sticks, short of the receiver or simply made a very poor throw.
Yes, I'm counting. Why? Because too often fans remember the two great throws, and forget the 9 bad ones.
- During the 49ers first drive of the first quarter, the offense had a 3rd and 2. Gabbert threw short pass left to Quinton Patton that gained one yard.
- On the 49ers first touchdown drive, Gabbert threw a pass on 3rd and 6 to Shaun Draughn that was also short of the first down mark, but Draughn managed to gain seven yards and set up first and goal.
- To start the 2nd quarter, the 49ers were going for it on 4th and 1, but Gabbert threw a poor, short pass to Torrey Smith behind the line of scrimmage. Result: A a loss of two yards and a turnover on downs.
- In the third quarter, the 49ers took the ball with 9:09 left on the clock. On a 3rd and 10, Kelly called a wide receive screen from a trips right formation. The two inside receivers blocked, with the outside receiver looping behind them. Put aside this awful call from Kelly, because Gabbert's throw was horrible. It hit the dirt. The 49ers were forced to punt and left 7:45 on the clock.
- Gabbert's longest completion was 18 yards to Jermey Kerley, and attempted two 17 yard throws to Kerley during the game. Both throws were too long.
- It's a bit of a concern that Kelly didn't call a pass play longer than 18 yards. That's concerning, but again, not shocking.
I'm absolutely fine with every play or series not being perfect. That's sports, and if you go into each game thinking your quarterback is going to be 29 of 32 for 444 yards and 4 TDs, well, you're in for a long season. Bad passes, INTs and horrible calls from the coaches box happen. But with Gabbert, it happens too often. He's not a great quarterback, and tonight's game really wasn't anything noteworthy from him.
Carlos Hyde was certainly the workhorse of this game, and I thought he broke 100 yards rushing. However, he had 23 carries for 88 yards rushing, and a very pretty touchdown run. A solid game, but I was a little surprised he didn't break 100 yards.
Overall, the 49ers had 150 yards on the ground, gaining 3.6 yards per rush. The offense totaled 320 yards of offense, and averaged 4.2 yards per play on 77 plays. To compare, the Rams totaled 185 yards of offense on 60 plays, for roughly 3.1 yards per play. I highly encourage you to analyze the box score to draw your own comparisons. In my eyes, the 49ers looked good beating a still struggling Rams team.
Earlier this week, Chris Brown wrote an article about how predictable Chip Kelly's offense had become. Take a look at that first video. The 49ers ran this play in the 3rd quarter with 9:09 on the clock: Stacked receivers and an inside run.
Next, take a look at the second video in Brown's article. The back and the tight end's alignment give away the play. The 49ers ran this a number of times, and I turned to my friend and said, "This is the formation for an inside run."
I'm not being critical to be mean, but too often fans take one football victory and turn it into something (or someone) it's not. I'm happy the team played well, and I'm very pleased to start this season with a shut out... along with outscoring Seattle, and therefore being in sole position of first place.
However, this kind of offensive performance won't beat the Carolinas or the Arizona's of the NFC, nor will it compete with the Patriots in November. It's a long season though, and anything can happen. But last night, I went to bed with a smile on my face and had blissful dreams of Dwight Clark out jumping Everson Walls in the NFC Championship game.