Postgame Buzz: San Francisco 49ers win season opener 31-17 over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 49ers are spending the week practicing in Youngstown, Ohio, before traveling to Cincinnati as they look for their second consecutive win to start the season against the 0-1 Bengals.
The team has Tuesday off, making it a perfect time for another mailbag. To your questions!
Romanmarcos asks: Was this a rusty Jimmy G or the real Jimmy G? He is off target on many of his throws.
That’s the million-dollar question. Or, specifically, the $26.6 million question for the 49ers looming next spring.
San Francisco could release Garoppolo and get out from his $26.6 million cap hit before the new league year begins in March. His $137.5 million contract was structured to give him a ton of money up front ($51.4 million during 2018 and 2019), with flexibility thereafter.
Kyle Shanahan after Sunday’s game put some blame on himself for the offense’s inconsistencies when asked about Garoppolo’s performance.
“I think the whole offense was shaky,” Shanahan said. “I think he made a couple of good throws but Jimmy and everyone else, including myself, needs to get a lot more consistent. There was some things out there that we missed, which I think made it a much tighter game than it needed to be. Fortunately our defense got us some turnovers.”
Shanahan also pointed out Garoppolo didn’t get much help from receivers, noting if they can get their hands on passes they should be caught. To his point, no receiver had more than 39 yards (Richie James Jr.) or more than three receptions (Deebo Samuel). It seemed Shanahan was tepid about having Garoppolo try throws downfield following that first quarter pick-six.
Garoppolo averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt Sunday, a career low in his 11 starts. He led the league during his 5-0 run as the starter in 2017 at 8.8 and is at 8.1 for his career.
It was an outlier performance from a statistical perspective and I think rust has a lot to do with it. I also think the Buccaneers defense under Todd Bowles is going to be a lot better than many anticipated and it’s just tough, in general, to win on the road in season openers.
I’m expecting Garoppolo to play better as time goes on. He’s clearly not the same fearless player he was immediately following the trade. And he has to make better decisions to avoid costly interceptions.
Sketchy asks: Is Melvin Gordon an option?
I highly, highly doubt it.
Gordon isn’t going to play this season without a new contract that pays him $10 to $12 million annually. The 49ers currently have $21 million in cap space, which means they could make it work while Tevin Coleman misses time with a troublesome high ankle sprain.
But the benefits of adding Gordon don’t outweigh the risks. Keep in mind, salary cap space rolls over year to year and San Francisco has to think about the next contracts for DeForest Buckner and George Kittle.
Theoretically, with the salary cap rising roughly $10 million each season, the 49ers would have some $31 million in cap room heading into 2020 (before signing their rookie class).
If Buckner gets a new contract, he would likely get something near $20 million in his first season, given San Francisco’s propensity for front-loading contracts. Kittle will likely look to become the highest-paid tight end in the NFL on an extension, which he’ll be eligible for the first time this offseason, making over $10 million per season.
There’s $30 million of your cap space gone with two new contracts — which wouldn’t be available if the team gave Gordon the contract he wanted after being acquired in a trade. And does the team want to bring back looming free agent Arik Armstead? They should definitely consider it if he’s going to play like he did Sunday.
If the decision came down to signing a running back to a massive deal, or have the flexibility to sign Buckner and Kittle to new extensions, I have to think the 49ers would prefer the latter in a landslide. And that’s not even considering Shanahan and position coach Bobby Turner’s lengthy history of getting production from running backs without making premium investments.
Jake Kucheck asks: If healthy, will Pettis see the field significantly more in Cincy?
That’s what it sounds like. Shanahan was asked Monday if Deebo Samuel has his starting job nailed down and why Pettis played only two snaps.
“It’s definitely not Deebo’s job. It’s not anyone’s right now,” he said. “That’s something that I kind of talked about all preseason. No one’s really taken that role. Dante got a setback with his groin injury where he just missed some time to practice so that gave him a little bit of a setback leading into Week 1, which made it easier for Deebo to start over him.
“We went in knowing Deebo was going to get more playing time. I definitely didn’t plan on Dante getting only two reps. He should have been in more than that. That starts with me. I’ll make sure not to let that happen again.”
That sounds like Pettis will have a bigger role Sunday and beyond, if he’s healthy. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to try given the way the 49ers receivers played in the opener.
Lars Jaako Havro asks: Why is Shanahan being so tight-lipped about Hurd’s injury? Back tightness doesn’t sound like much of a diagnosis, and it’s now been several weeks. I find it odd and slightly concerning that there’s no more detail given.
Teams are typically tight-lipped about injuries when time frames are in flux. It wouldn’t do Shanahan any good to say exactly what the injury is if it’s something that could change daily like a back injury. Backs are tricky, after all, and could worsen with a sneeze or sleeping on it the wrong way.
I’m unsure where the 49ers stand on this because we don’t have much precedent with the new training staff in place. It could be just tightness and the team is being extra cautious with it, as it has with every other player coming back from an injury. Or it could be something significant the team is trying to figure out.
Right now we’re in a holding pattern. Though it seems unlikely we’ll have clarity on the injury until after the coming bye during Week 4.
Eric Abeyta asks: It seems like the run offense struggled against the Bucs and the 9ers couldn’t get the run game going, do you foresee this group struggling? Run offense has always been the better of the two between run versus pass protection.
I thought the 49ers’ biggest strength as an offense was their ability to block outside zone running plays, but that was clearly an area the Buccaneers highlighted in their game plan in their attempt to take it away. I thought the problem was two-fold: the offensive line struggled to block it and Tampa Bay played well defending it. That led to the 49ers averaging just 3.1 yards on 32 attempts.
Shanahan was asked about that Monday.
“They had a pretty good game plan running a bunch of blitzes into our runs, dare enough to pass at times, and at times we did,” he said. “We needed to hit a couple of those to get them out of that and we didn’t. When you don’t make them pay for some of the stuff they’re doing in their run blitzes, they’re not going to get out of it.”
Getting more going in the passing game, which falls on Garoppolo’s shoulders, should open things up for the run. And the 49ers offense is at its best when it has run-pass balance to set up play action which is how San Francisco becomes really difficult to defend.