San Francisco 49ers

Grading the 49ers’ home opener: Rushing offense leads the way in victory over Lions

Running back Matt Breida rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers’ 30-27 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday in Santa Clara.
Running back Matt Breida rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers’ 30-27 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday in Santa Clara. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The 49ers held on to a 30-27 victory in their home opener Sunday against the Lions, which came to the final moments when Matthew Stafford failed to complete a fourth-down pass to Theo Riddick. Jimmy Garoppolo threw two touchdown passes, Matt Breida had a highlight scoring run and Robbie Gould hit three field goals to give San Francisco their first victory of the season, improving to 1-1. Here’s our report card:

Passing offense: B-

Jimmy Garoppolo completed 10 of 14 in the first half, but he also took four sacks, including three in the red zone. All four were cases in which Garoppolo held on to the ball too long, perhaps being gun-shy following his three-interception game Week 1. Garoppolo got off to a good start in the second half, connecting with Garrett Celek for an 11-yard touchdown on the team’s first passing play of the third quarter. The 49ers’ needed a strong closing drive from Garoppolo with 3:21 remaining to salt the game away, but he threw a bad interception to Tracy Walker, who returned it deep into San Francisco’s territory. However, a holding penalty on Quandre Diggs before the pass saved San Francisco, giving them an automatic first down at midfield. They wound up punting after Garoppolo was sacked for the sixth time, giving the Lions the ball back with just over a minute remaining. Garoppolo finished with 206 yards on 18-of-26 passing, good for a 118.4 passer rating.

Rushing offense: A

Matt Breida got off to a quick start, rushing for 28 yards on the 49ers’ first play from scrimmage. He had 42 yards on six carries in the first half, while Alfred Morris had 11 yards on his first five. But the game’s biggest play came near the end of the third quarter, when Breida squirted through the right side of the offensive line, made a cut, let two Lions run into each other and then burst down the left side of the field for a 66-yard score. The play wouldn’t have been possible without a good effort from Pierre Garçon, who blocked cornerback Nevin Lawson the entire way. Breida finished with 138 yards while the offense as a whole had 190 on 28 carries, good for a 6.8-yard average.

Passing defense: D

The 49ers caught a break when Matthew Stafford was sloppy with the ball deep in his own territory, allowing linebacker Elijah Lee to force his second career fumble. Stafford completed 76 percent of his throws in the opening half, including a 30-yarder to a wide open Kenny Golladay after cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was faked out badly on play action. Witherspoon was beaten again for a five-yard score to Marvin Jones Jr. following a 67-yard completion for Stafford on third-and-17 to Golden Tate. Cassius Marsh had a sack nullified by a face mask penalty the play before the score. The 49ers got lucky in a few instances when Stafford overthrew his targets deep downfield. But in the fourth quarter, Witherspoon wound up getting benched in favor of Jimmie Ward after getting picked on in coverage repeatedly. The Lions were focusing their offense to Witherspoon’s side of the field and ignoring Richard Sherman altogether. Stafford finished with 347 yards and three touchdowns.

Rushing defense: B-

The Lions called passing plays at twice the rate of their runs in the first half (21 to 10), while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. LeGarrette Blount was tough to bring down, though he wasn’t a huge factor in the game, and wound up getting ejected in the fourth quarter for shoving Lee after a hit to Stafford sent him out of bounds. The Lions finished with 98 yards on just 18 carries as they played catch-up throughout the game.

Special teams: B+

Robbie Gould made two field goals in the first half, giving him 28 consecutive makes, setting a new franchise record. Phil Dawson set the previous mark in 2013. Gould added another to in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 17. Raheem Mostert made another strong tackle in punt coverage hitting Jamal Agnew for no gain. Rookie fifth-round pick D.J. Reed took the second-half kickoff 101 yards to the end zone, but was flagged for grabbing a face mask while stiff-arming a Lions player. The 49ers scored their second touchdown four plays later. The Lions thought they returned a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but were flagged twice and wound up with the ball at their 24.

Coaching: B-

The design of San Francisco’s first touchdown was a stroke of genius from coach Kyle Shanahan. He lined up wideout Kendrick Bourne in the backfield, leaving the Lions’ defense confused. Bourne leaked out to the left flat and no defender followed him, giving the 49ers’ the easy four-yard touchdown, and their first lead. On the second scoring pass, the 49ers ran a well-executed run pass option, leading to Celek getting open just enough for his first touchdown reception of 2018. But the defense had major problems with the Lions’ passing attack throughout the game, nearly losing it late and getting lucky while Stafford missed a few open players deep downfield.

Chris Biderman: @ChrisBiderman
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