Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Finally, the preseason is over. The 49ers got their dress rehearsal in against the deepest reaches of the Raiders’ depth chart, and some of the back-end roster battles raged on. After a few interesting opening series, it got awfully preseason-ey, in a 34-10 win.
Shanahan really leans into the Taysom Hill experiment
If you didn’t believe Kyle Shanahan was serious about his desire to use a two-quarterback system, at least in certain situations, he made it clear Sunday that he is. On the opening drive, in which Raheem Mostert ran riot on seven carries (three for 10-plus yards) for 53 yards, Jimmy Garoppolo took four snaps, while Trey Lance had five.
Here’s how the 49ers’ snaps went in the first two drives.
Drive 1: Garoppolo-Garoppolo-Lance-Garoppolo-Lance-Lance-Lance-Lance-Garoppolo (TD run)
Drive 2: Garoppolo-Garoppolo-Garoppolo-Lance-Lance-Garoppolo (false start)-Garoppolo-Garoppolo-Garoppolo-Lance-Garoppolo-Lance-Garoppolo-Garoppolo-Lance (TD run)
What did we learn? Well, maybe not all that much. Lance didn’t run the ball until the touchdown, and didn’t complete a pass. What we did see, though, was his impact, and the threat of him running.
Having Lance in created acres of space for Raheem Mostert on the outside. Edge defenders crashed eagerly to contain Lance, who simply let Mostert rattle off multiple 10-plus yard runs to the outside. And when Mostert gets to the edge, well, it’s not all that easy to catch up to him.
Garoppolo didn’t have too much to do during those two drives, except for when he laid his body on the line like a maniac, diving dangerously for a touchdown, and taking on, but avoiding the worst of a crunching hit. He hit his short throws in rhythm, but missed Mohamed Sanu badly on a deep ball in which he never separated.
Lance started to get into a rhythm when Garoppolo left the game, making a host of nice intermediate throws, especially when he got out in space. Where he still struggled, though, was on shorter throws. He continues to put too much pace on the ball, overthrowing Jauan Jennings on an easy slant, and threw one ball behind him that Jennings managed to hold onto. His first throw attempt, too, was a double-clutch miss, in which he threw a ball at Trent Sherfield’s feet, missing Jalen Hurd open underneath. He finished 6-for-13 with 46 yards and was dealt two drops.
That matters, and needs to be corrected (and likely will, with time), but the spacing that Lance created in the run game is absolutely paradigm-shifting for the 49ers. They ran 48 times for 242 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect them to rush for something near that in the regular season.
They were a dominant run offense without Trey Lance. With him, they are going to gash teams on the ground time and time and time again. Regardless of where Lance is in the passing game in his ability to read defenses and throw the ball accurately, the threat of him as a runner will be monumental for this team.
Receivers don’t do much to un-muddy the waters
We finally saw Jalen Hurd in an NFL game. It was the first time since his two-touchdown debut in the first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys 749 days ago in 2019, and the 49ers targeted him early and often.
He was targeted seven times in total, and came up with four catches for 25 yards and one rush for two yards. That one rush, however, came on an end around and helped set up Lance’s touchdown run. On that touchdown, he flashed the same motion as his carry, bringing defensive momentum with him; Lance then faked a handoff to Trey Sermon to the right and had a wide-open rushing lane for the touchdown.
The downside of Hurd, though, was that he had two drops. The first looked like it was tipped late, making it a difficult catch. The second was less excusable; it was a low throw, but accurate from Lance in a closing window for first-down yardage over the middle, which Hurd has to come up with. Still, his talent is clear, and there’s not a ton of that on the back end of the roster.
Jauan Jennings didn’t have the best of days, dropping a would-be touchdown that he absolutely needed to catch. He tried to make amends later, when he caught a dart thrown slightly behind him from Lance for a first down. He had a fairly impressive stretch in training camp, though, and had a 26-yard reception in the first preseason game.
The issue with keeping both Hurd and Jennings is that you’re probably missing a returner. Both Travis Benjamin and Nsimba Webster (and the recently re-signed River Cracraft, who’s not really in contention) got their chance as returners on Sunday. Both did well, with Benjamin taking one back for 16 yards and Webster for 19 yards.
Benjamin left to be evaluated for a concussion, and Webster ham-handedly dropped his one target, and continues to look out of sorts as a receiver.
If you’re the 49ers, why not take talent in Hurd and Jennings, potentially putting one of them on injured reserve, and bring back one of your return options later? None of the receivers today made it absolutely clear they should make the roster, but Kyle Shanahan has raved about Jennings, and both he and Lynch made clear Hurd is one of their top six most talented receivers. Without too much to be impressed about from their two return options, it might make more sense to swing on talent.
Other points: Who’s the last running back? And the phantom menace
- Who’s the last back in? The 49ers are going to likely keep four running backs, and it’s probably Wayne Gallman or JaMycal Hasty on the chopping block. Both have performed admirably throughout camp, and did so again on Sunday. Hasty had a couple of touchdowns and rushed for 55 yards on six carries (including the 35-yard touchdown) while Gallman rattled off 13 carries for 60 yards. Gallman is the larger receiving target and back who’s fantastic at picking up blitzes, but his hands are questionable. Hasty is tricky to use in the passing game, but runs forcefully. He’s had fumbling issues in the past, but his talent is clear. Hasty would go to waivers if cut, while Gallman, a vested veteran, would become a free agent. It’s a very tricky call.
- Nice day for the kickers: After missing a couple of extra points in the two prior games, Robbie Gould went 4-for-4 on extra points and made both of his field goals. Meanwhile, Mitch Wishnowsky, had two booming punts into the corners, including a 75-yarder from his own end zone. He had four punts for 247 yards, for an average of 61.3 yards per punt, and three of which died inside the 20-yard line.
- Ridiculous on defense: The Raiders decided their first team didn’t need to play in the final preseason game, so the 49ers only repped against second- and third-string guys, but the defense was enveloping. Las Vegas ran for just 62 yards and passed for 175. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had another interception, and there were three sacks. It feels like every linebacker on the depth chart can range from sideline to sideline. This tweet below is probably a little premature given it came in the first half of a preseason game, again, against a second-string offense led by… Nathan Peterman, but based on what we’ve seen, the 49ers’ defense should be dominant again this year.
Put #49ers D-Coordinator DeMeco Ryans on your Head Coach watch-list.
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) August 29, 2021