Chip Kelly’s famously frenetic offense produced four touchdowns Monday night, but the new coach’s defense was the star attraction in the 49ers’ season-opening 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers want to pair an aggressive, ball-hawking defense with Kelly’s quick-tempo offense, and they got a perfect performance against a Rams offense that ranked last in the league in yards last season. It was the first season-opening shutout in 49ers history.
Defensive end Arik Armstead had a hand in both of the 49ers’ sacks of Case Keenum, and Quinton Dial tipped a second-quarter pass that linebacker NaVorro Bowman intercepted. It was Bowman’s first interception at home since the one he returned 89 yards for a touchdown in the final game at Candlestick Park in 2013.
The Rams crossed the 50-yard line once in the particularly brutal third quarter but only because of a 28-yard punt return by Tavon Austin. The drive ended when Keenum’s pass into coverage was intercepted by inside linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong
The 49ers held Rams running back Todd Gurley to 47 yards, limited Keenum to 130 passing yards – 50 of which came on the Rams’ final drive – and didn’t commit a penalty until the 14:20 mark of the fourth quarter.
“I think the most telling statistic, (one) that I’m really proud of, was two penalties,” Kelly said afterward. “To play that kind of disciplined football, I think was good.”
Gabbert as a runner
In three years coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, most of Kelly’s quarterbacks – from Nick Foles to Mark Sanchez to Sam Bradford – weren’t known as runners. Kelly has three good athletes at the position with the 49ers and didn’t seem shy about using starter Blaine Gabbert as a runner.
Gabbert carried nine times for 43 yards, absorbing a punishing hit on a 9-yard run to the Rams’ 6-yard line in the second quarter.
After a defensive holding penalty moved the ball to the 3, backup running back Shaun Draughn took the ball to the outside, stiff-armed a defender and went in for a touchdown that gave the 49ers a 14-0 lead.
Earlier in the drive, Gabbert converted a fourth-and-6 scenario with an 18-yard completion to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who was added to the roster just two weeks ago. That was one of two fourth-down conversions the 49ers attempted in the second quarter. An earlier throw to Torrey Smith failed to pick up a first down.
Kerley had seven catches for 61 yards to lead all receivers.
“Picked up the guy two weeks ago and he had seven catches,” Kelly said. “If we had picked him up a week earlier he might have had 10.”
Gabbert was 22 of 35 for 170 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown to tight end Vance McDonald in the fourth quarter.
With the game out of reach, Gabbert was taken out in the fourth quarter for Colin Kaepernick, who entered to a mix of cheers and boos. Kaepernick did not attempt a pass on his lone drive.
The 49ers mostly stuck to their ground attack throughout the contest, finishing with 150 rushing yards, 88 by Carlos Hyde.
In the first quarter, Hyde capped a 10-play, 52-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run through the gut of Los Angeles’ defense. Hyde took the handoff, waited for blocks from guard Andrew Tiller, guard Zane Beadles and tight end Garrett Celek, then burst into the end zone to give San Francisco an early lead.
During practice, Hyde learned that he had to wait for Tiller and Celek to pull across him before making his move.
“I just saw (the hole) split apart like the Red Sea and my eyes got big,” he said.
Hyde added a 1-yard score in the fourth quarter. It was his first two-touchdown outing since last year’s Week 1 win over the Minnesota Vikings.