The 49ers allowed 190 receiving yards to running backs and tight ends on Sunday. That mostly was attributed to problems in coverage by linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite. They certainly contributed to the issue, but on the Giants' fateful final drive, when running back Shane Vereen did so much damage as a receiver out of the backfield, the 49ers had safety Jaquiski Tartt on the field mostly acting as a spy on Vereen.
That theoretically was a smart alignment for San Francisco. The 49ers' second-round draft pick is seemingly built for playing close to the line of scrimmage and for covering backs and tight ends. Tartt, however, had trouble with Vereen and, as Pro Football Focus notes, allowed catches all six times he was targeted Sunday, giving up 96 yards total.
The bigger problem Sunday was that Aaron Lynch was the only 49er who consistently put pressure on Eli Manning. The 49ers missed Ahmad Brooks. Neither Corey Lemonier nor Eli Harold recorded a tackle or a quarterback hit. Looking at the stat sheet, it was as if neither played.
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I counted one instance in which Harold, who played 33 snaps, got a hand on Manning. He was going against fellow rookie Ereck Flowers, a familiar opponent from the ACC (Flowers, a tackle, played at Miami; Harold at Virginia). Harold didn't do well against Flowers in college and was largely handled on Sunday. Harold's main issue -- he has no power move at this point. Adding strength and explosion has to be goal No. 1 for him during his rookie season.
Here's why Joe Staley is such a good left tackle: He ends up being a lead blocker not just on runs to the left side but on passes to the left side. Colin Kaepernick had two big completions on screens to the left -- 30 yards to Bruce Ellington in the first quarter and 25 yards to Torrey Smith in the fourth quarter. On both plays Staley was deep down the field making blocks.
Why did Ellington come out of the game after just two snaps? Jim Tomsula didn't have an answer on Monday. But it was clear the 49ers were trying to bolster Kaepernick's confidence with the short-pass/big-play formula early on. It worked, but that doesn't explain why Ellington wasn't tapped later in the game. To be fair, Quinton Patton made a very nice play to pick up a first down later in the game when it seemed as if he was trapped behind the marker by two Giants defenders.
I wrote about the 49ers' muddled offensive approach last week. They seemed to hone things a bit Sunday by doing less read option, less Pistol formation and putting Kaepernick under center more often. Also fullback Bruce Miller was on the field for 43 percent of the offensive snaps, his highest count to date.
As I wrote (ad nauseam) last season, the 49ers are better when Miller is in the game. He's an excellent lead blocker who nearly always takes out the man he is assigned to block. Miller was on the field for two of the 49ers' three touchdowns Sunday. Blake Bell replaced him for Garrett Celek's touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers held the Giants to just 84 yards rushing, which was cited as a positive the next day by defensive lineman Quinton Dial. But the stat is a bit misleading. New York still averaged four yards a carry. They merely felt confident passing the ball, and with little pass rush, why not? Manning set a career high with 54 pass attempts.