If that Jimmy Garoppolo fellow hadn’t come along, the 49ers’ biggest end-of-season storyline might have been the progress their defense made.
They finished 24th in total defense, which is only eight spots better than a year ago. The gains, however, seem much more vast. Here’s one way to look at it: The 2017 defense allowed 877 fewer yards – nearly the length of nine football fields! – and 97 fewer points than their woeful 2016 counterparts.
And another: A year ago, 11 different runners – including some rather obscure guys like Fozzy Whittaker and Christine Michael – gained 100 or more yards against San Francisco. This year, that number was down to three.
The most prolific runner vs. the 49ers following their Nov. 19 bye week: Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray. He had 59 yards.
Another stat that suggests the middle of the defense gained strength as the year went on: The 49ers tied for second in the NFL with 21 forced fumbles. But they tied for 27th with just 10 interceptions and also tied for 27th with 30 sacks. Those statistics are further evidence that the edges – pass rushers and cornerbacks – must be a focus in the offseason.
Garoppolo in good company
Garoppolo had his worst statistical outing of 2017 on Sunday, completing “only” 60.6 percent of his passes against the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers quarterback never dropped below that mark in any of his five starts. His accuracy, despite playing without the team’s most sure-handed receiver, Pierre Garcon, was perhaps his most impressive trait.
If he had qualified, Garoppolo’s 67.4 percent completion rate would have ranked fourth among quarterbacks behind New Orleans’ Drew Brees (72.0), Minnesota’s Case Keenum (67.6) and Kansas City’s Alex Smith (67.5) and ahead of the New York Jets’ Josh McCown (67.3) and New England’s Tom Brady (66.3).
Six of the top 10 quarterbacks in completion percentage are in the playoffs. Another, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, played in only seven games due to a broken collarbone.
Hyde’s highs and lows
The 49ers’ receiving leader in terms of catches was … Carlos Hyde?
Yes, the team’s starting tailback and pending free agent set a career record with 59 grabs. To put that in perspective, he had 34 catches in four years at Ohio State. Kyle Shanahan’s top running back a year ago, Devonta Freeman, had 54 catches for a Super Bowl-bound Atlanta Falcons squad.
Ah, but the pass-catching stats weren’t all good for Hyde. According to Pro Football Focus, he led the league with nine drops. His backup, Matt Breida, seemed a bit more natural in that area but still tied for second in dropped passes among running backs with six. Hyde ranked fifth on the team with 350 receiving yards.
George Kittle’s 43 catches and 515 receiving yards are franchise records for a rookie tight end. According to team historian Donn Sinn, Kittle’s 100-yard game on Sunday was the first time a 49ers rookie tight end hit the 100-yard mark since Monty Stickles had 123 yards against the New York Giants in 1960.
One of the big critiques of former general manager Trent Baalke is that he too often whiffed on mid-round picks and that the 49ers ultimately had no rank-and-file element to their roster. John Lynch seemed to hit on two – Kittle and receiver Trent Taylor both were fifth-rounders in April – and his seventh-round selection, Adrian Colbert, seems like a keeper, too.
Lightening Buckner’s load
Before the season, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh called the 1,005 defensive snaps DeForest Buckner played in 2016 “criminal” and vowed to lighten the lineman’s workload.
He did. Buckner ended up playing 866 snaps. That’s still more than Saleh and defensive-line coach Jeff Zgonina would prefer. It ranked 11th among NFL defensive linemen.
Buckner had to leave Sunday’s game with a chest contusion but “is doing better,” John Lynch said Tuesday.
Good as Gould
Kicker Robbie Gould finished the season with more points – 145 – than he’s ever had in 13 NFL seasons. His previous high was 143 with the Chicago Bears in 2006. Gould’s total is the second highest in 49ers history to kicker David Akers’ 166 points in 2011.