49ers report card: Offense, defense grades for first half of 2021 season

·6 min read

49ers report card: Offense, defense grades not pretty at 3-5 mark originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SANTA CLARA — The NFL, as a whole, is exactly halfway through the 2021 regular season.

The 49ers will arrive at the official midpoint of their 17-game season at halftime Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams.

The 49ers entered the season with the high expectations of competing for the NFC West and lining themselves up to make a postseason run.

But through eight games, the team has given few indications of showing it is capable of doing much of anything.

The 49ers have lost five of their past six games. For context, the Atlanta Falcons currently hold the seventh and final NFC playoff spot with a 4-4 record -- just one game ahead of the 49ers.

So as long as the 49ers remain around the .500 mark, they will remain within reach of the postseason.

But remaining around the .500 mark is not going to be easy, based on what we have seen up to this point.

Here is the 49ers’ report card through 8/17ths of the 2021 season:

Rushing offense

Big things were expected from Raheem Mostert, who tore off carries of 9 and 11 yards early in the 49ers’ season-opener at Detroit. And that was that. Mostert sustained a knee injury and opted for season-ending surgery.

Jeff Wilson Jr. still has yet to step on the field, but he should be available in the second half.

Rookie Elijah Mitchell has been one of the few bright spots on the team. Despite missing two games with injuries, Mitchell has rushed for 469 yards (5.3 average) and three touchdowns. The 49ers averaged 4.4 yards per carry, which is good. The running game has not been as dominant as in past years, but it is still the area of the team least responsible for the problems.

Grade: B-minus

Passing offense

There are certain areas of the passing game that look good.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel has emerged. He has 49 receptions for a career-best 882 yards and four TDs. Samuel’s yards after the catch are a big reason the 49ers rank sixth in the NFL with an average of 7.3 net yards per pass attempt.

Samuel was a one-man show for much of the first half. George Kittle now is healthy, and Brandon Aiyuk has shown signs of figuring things out over the past two weeks.

Jimmy Garoppolo completed 65.3 percent of his passes but did not bring much of a threat despite owning a respectable 93.5 passer rating.

Also, many of the elements that have been the main reasons for the 49ers’ losses have come in the passing game. 

The 49ers convert on just 33.3 percent of their third downs. Only Seattle and Jacksonville are worse. Giveaways have been a huge issue. The 49ers threw six interceptions and lost six fumbles as a result of the passing game. 

Grade: D

Rushing defense

A lot of the problems on defense have started with an inability to consistently stop the run on first and second downs. As a result, the 49ers’ defense is set up in the difficult position of defending third-and-short situations.

Missed tackles have been a major issue for the 49ers. Jaquiski Tartt (seven), Fred Warner (six), Azeez Al-Shaair (six) and Emmanuel Moseley (six) have missed the most tackles on the team.

The opposition gained 1,053 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns for a 4.4-yard average — the same rushing average the 49ers have produced on offense. And that is not good enough.

Grade: D-plus

Passing defense

Let’s start with the bad. The opposition’s passer rating is 101.9. Not good. The 49ers have given up 12 touchdown passes and come up with just two interceptions (we still think Al-Shaair should have been credited with a pick instead of a fumble recovery against Indianapolis Colts QB Carson Wentz).

And, then, there are the penalties. The 49ers were called for 14 pass-interference penalties (three were declined) totaling 250 yards. Veteran Josh Norman struggled with penalties. Warner and Al-Shaair gave up too many yards in coverage.

However ... the 49ers’ pass defense ranks fourth-best in the NFL at yielding 206.5 yards per game. The 49ers are holding the opposition to just 6.2 net yards per pass attempt. That ranks 11th in the league. Nick Bosa has bounced back strong from missing almost all of last season with a knee injury. He had seven sacks in the first eight games.

Jason Verrett was the 49ers’ best cornerback. They placed a lot of trust in him after he remained healthy in 2020 and played at such a high level. But Verrett sustained a torn ACL in the fourth quarter of Week 1.

This is highly debatable, of course, especially coming off a game in which Colt McCoy had a career game, but ...

Grade: C-minus

Special teams

The 49ers found out just minutes before their Week 4 kickoff against Seattle that kicker Robbie Gould was out with a groin injury. Special teams were a big reason the 49ers lost that game. Return man Trenton Cannon contributed to the loss with a fumble and a couple of other ill-advised decisions.

Overall, special teams has been neutral. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky was selected as NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after the win over the Philadelphia Eagles. He has a strong 42.3-yard net average, which also reflects well on the coverage unit.

Gould and Joey Slye, his three-week replacement, combined to go 11 of 13 on field-goal attempts.

Grade: C

Coaching 

This is a bottom-line business. Take the 49ers’ game against the Arizona Cardinals, for instance. The Cardinals came out with six defensive linemen. Coach Kyle Shanahan recognized that and went with a no-huddle approach so that Arizona could not substitute. That is why the 49ers chose to throw the ball, rather than try to go at the Cardinals’ loaded-up defense with the run game.

It worked -- until it didn’t. The 49ers moved the ball. Then ... Kittle fumbled. And then ... Aiyuk fumbled. Next thing you know, the 49ers are down 17-0.

It’s a matter of players performing, but even that falls on the coaching staff, as Shanahan pointed out this week.

“Failure of execution starts with me. When plays don't work, no matter how it happens, it starts with the coaches,” Shanahan said.

RELATED: Shanahan details why 49ers' draft class hasn't contributed

The 49ers’ 575 yards in penalties ranks third-worst in the NFL. They are minus-nine in the takeaways/giveaway column. Only the Jets are worse.

Grade:

Overall

All of this adds up to the 49ers holding a disappointing 3-5 record with three of their losses coming by seven points or fewer.

This season turned when Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers administered a crushing last-second defeat in Week 3 after the 49ers had taken a lead with 37 seconds remaining. That late-game meltdown began a trend: Whenever there has been a big play to be made, the 49ers have not delivered.

Yes, there is a lot of season left to be played, but the 49ers have shown few signs of being capable of turning it around

Grade: D

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast