Grant Cohn: Midterm report card on 49ers, Part I
Dear Jed York,
You may wonder why you didn’t receive this midterm report card last week, at the midpoint of the 49ers season.
That report card would have been bleak. Mostly Ds and Fs.
For the fourth year in a row, your season ended before November. This season, the 49ers fell out of contention before they won their second game.
But, they tried so hard despite their shortcomings. They earned an extra week to boost their midseason grades. And they played the Oakland Raiders, grade-boosters deluxe. The Raiders made the 49ers look fantastic last Thursday. Your team may have improved.
Here are the 49ers midseason grades, starting with their offense. Grades for defense, special teams and coaches will arrive Tuesday.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-MINUS
The tackles are inconsistent. Joe Staley is 34 and showing age. Mike McGlinchey is a rookie who makes rookie mistakes, although he didn’t make any the past two games.
The guards are mediocre. Neither Laken Tomlinson nor Mike Person can block a talented interior rusher one on one. And center Weston Richburg is weak. He can’t hold his ground against a strong nose tackle.
Individually, the 49ers offensive linemen struggle in pass protection. They have allowed 31 sacks – tied for third most in the NFL. Not good.
But, as a unit, they typically excel at outside-zone run blocking.
The 49ers offense ranks fifth in rushing yards even though starting running back Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL before the season. Most of his replacements have thrived, which speaks well for the offensive linemen.
But, the offensive line must improve during crunch time. The 49ers don’t run well while leading in the fourth quarter. That’s when they have to run to use up the clock. That’s when the opponent expects them to run and sells out to stop it. A team with a dominant offensive line can run even when the opponent knows it’s coming. The 49ers don’t yet have a dominant O-line.
TIGHT END: A-MINUS
George Kittle is the best player on the offense.
He’s a terrific blocker, and ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards per game among tight ends. He averages 76.9.
Kittle is on pace for 1,230 receiving yards, which would be a higher total than any 49ers player has posted since Hall of Famer Terrell Owens gained 1,300 yards through the air in 2002.
But, Kittle has caught just three touchdown passes this season. He needs to become a bigger scoring threat. Former 49ers tight Vernon Davis caught 13 touchdown passes both in 2010 and 2013.
The 49ers also must develop a No. 2 tight end. Garrett Celek hasn’t caught a pass since Week 3. He’s washed up. His backup, Ross Dwelley, caught an eight-yard pass in the red zone last week against the Raiders. Maybe Dwelley is the future No. 2.
WIDE RECEIVER: F
Head coach Kyle Shanahan is a wide-receiver guru. He played receiver in college, coached receivers as a young man and hand-selected every receiver on the 49ers roster.
Starter Marquise Goodwin averages 38.6 receiving yards per game, which ranks 66th among NFL wide outs. Fellow starter Pierre Garcon averages 35.8 receiving yards per game, which ranks 73rd. The 49ers have two of the least productive starting receivers in the league.