San Francisco 49ers

Grading the 49ers’ loss vs. Colts: Uninspiring passing game; Alfred Morris stands out

49ers Postgame Buzz: Weighing the good, the bad, the drops vs. Colts

Chris Biderman breaks down the San Francisco 49ers preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018.
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Chris Biderman breaks down the San Francisco 49ers preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018.

Here’s our report card from the 49ers’ 23-17 loss at the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday in their third preseason game, falling to 1-2 during the exhibition slate.

Passing offense: C+

Running back Raheem Mostert dropped Jimmy Garoppolo’s first pass, a screen to the left that would have gone for a sizable gain, setting the tone for the game. Garrett Celek mishandled another short throw on a third-down play near the end zone leading to Kyle Shanahan choosing to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 6-yard line.

Then Garoppolo tried to find Kendrick Bourne to his right, but replays showed the ball might have been tipped at the line of scrimmage and Bourne couldn’t come down with it, though it looked catchable. Reserve tight end Cole Hikutini in the second quarter dropped a would-be touchdown on Garoppolo’s well-placed pass to the middle of the field from 19 yards out.

Garoppolo had at least two interceptions dropped by Colts defenders. He played the first drive of the second half, completing two passes to fullback Kyle Juszczyk while getting another drop from Celek before punting and making way for C.J. Beathard. San Francisco’s starter finished 9 of 19 for 135 yards, with 47 coming on a long catch and run from Pierre Garçon, who finished with 62 yards. Dante Pettis dropped a possible touchdown in the third quarter on a back-shoulder throw from Beathard. The game ended when third-string quarterback Nick Mullens was intercepted by safety George Odum with 44 seconds left.

Rushing offense: B+

The 49ers got whatever they wanted on the ground with the starting offense for most of the first half. Alfred Morris, making his San Francisco debut, averaged 6.8 yards on his first 11 carries while the offensive line cleared wide running lanes against the Colts’ struggling defense that was without starting linebacker Anthony Walker.

But then Indianapolis’ defense stiffened, allowing just one yard on Morris’ next six carries combined. Morris finished with 84 yards on 11 carries, making a strong first impression with his new team that could use a reliable insurance policy at running back with Jerick McKinnon (calf) and Matt Breida (separated shoulder) working their way back from injuries. Third-string quarterback Nick Mullens got off to a bad start when he tripped over center Coleman Shelton on a running play, leading to a fumble at the 49ers’ 9-yard line and a Colts field goal. Mullens made it a one-score game with a touchdown on a quarterback sneak near the four-minute mark.

Passing defense: B

Andrew Luck played most of the first half and completed eight of his first 10 throws, including a 15-yard touchdown to tight end Eric Ebron on what appeared to be a blown coverage by Reuben Foster and the back end of the defense. A questionable roughing the passer call on DeForest Buckner and pass interference on Ahkello Witherspoon on the same play earlier in the drive helped set up the score.

Richard Sherman registered a pass breakup on his first and only target in coverage, sneaking a hand in to knock Luck’s pass away from receiver Ryan Grant on a slant route. The defense allowed just 120 total yards on Luck’s four possessions and was mostly sharp, yielding just one scoring drive. Luck was efficient, but coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme is designed to yield short passes while preventing long plays over the top. Luck was sacked by Jeremiah Attaochu, who also had the help of Buckner and Solomon Thomas on the play. It was just the second sack of the preseason from the starting defense.

The 49ers in the second half tried Tyvis Powell, a cornerback, at free safety. Colts backup signal caller Jacoby Brissett then hit receiver Seantavius Jones just before Powell could get over to the left sideline for a 53-yard completion. Jones beat rookie third-round pick Tarvarius Moore on the deep route, bringing Indianapolis to San Francisco’s 3-yard line before Christine Michael’s touchdown run.

Rushing defense: A-

The Colts were missing four tailbacks, including starter Marlon Mack and his backup Robert Turbin. They had just five yards on 11 first-half carries from Nyheim Hines, Michael and Jordan Wilkins. Luck was the team’s leading rusher in the first half, scrambling for 27 yards on four runs all coming on passing plays. Indianapolis finished with just 81 rushing yards, while San Francisco’s defense won the line of scrimmage for most the game. Rookie Fred Warner was given the start alongside Malcolm Smith and led the team with five tackles, including one for loss.

Special teams: B

The 49ers used three different returners on their first three punts. Rookie Dante Pettis was given the first shot and had another impressive jaunt, weaving 21 yards and showing off the skills that helped him set an NCAA record with nine punt returns for touchdowns with Washington. Fellow first-year wideout Richie James had a five-yard return in the second half. Receiver Victor Bolden Jr., who faces a four-game suspension to open the season, averaged 23 yards on three kickoff returns.

Coaching: C

Penalties were a significant issue for the second straight week. The 49ers had 10 penalties for 98 yards through the first three quarters. Morris’ impressive 17-yard run on his first carry was negated by a needless illegal formation flag.

Additionally, the offense began 0 for 4 in the red zone. The 49ers had the advantage in yardage and time of possession throughout most of the game, but couldn’t capitalize on their scoring opportunities in the preseason dress rehearsal.

49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo shares his thoughts following San Francisco's 23-17 loss at the Indianapolis Colts in their third preseason game.

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