The San Francisco 49ers are turning the page to their Week 2 home opener against the Detroit Lions. Players have Tuesday off and will return to practice on Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s a look at the top storylines facing the team following Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
As always, thanks to those who asked questions. Let’s dive in.
George Kittle posted 90 yards on a team-high nine targets against the Vikings in Week 1. Minnesota has a talented trio of corners in Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mike Hughes, so it came as no surprise to see Jimmy Garoppolo target his tight end so often. You saw a similar game plan on Monday night from the Oakland Raiders against the Los Angeles Rams. Derek Carr looked for Jared Cook over and over again.
There will also be games where Pierre Garçon or Marquise Goodwin have the better matchup. Still, Kittle should be a focal point all season long. He’s got big-play ability, but can also be utilized on 3rd-and-short situations or in the red zone. Health permitting, Kittle could sprint past the 515 receiving yards he posted as a rookie by midseason.
The bigger concern is easily the offensive line. Losing your first- and second-string right guard in less than a quarter will leave any team scrambling. As Kyle Shanahan said on Monday, Mike McGlinchey did an admirable job playing guard for the first time in his adult life. If Mike Person (foot) and Joshua Garnett (foot) are both out in Week 2 against the Lions, San Francisco will have to turn elsewhere. Matt Tobin is an option on the active. There’s also some hope that Erik Magnuson (hamstring) is able to make it back in time to play on Sunday.
As for the running back situation, it’s far too early to hit the panic button. Alfred Morris’ fumble on the goal line, while obviously unacceptable, has skewed the overall impression of the running game in Week 1. Morris and Matt Breida combined for 84 yards on 23 carries. That’s a 3.7-yard average against one of the best defensive fronts in all of football. Comparatively, the 49ers defense held Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray to 82 combined rushing yards (3.03-yard average).
The workload between Morris and Breida should continue to be a near-even split. A true hot hand for either player would be something that tilts the scales one way or the other. Morris saw 34 snaps while Breida saw 30 against the Vikings.
From everything we were told during training camp and the preseason, Garoppolo has a full grasp of the playbook and Shanahan isn’t limiting what he puts on the quarterback. The biggest transition Shanahan has had to make is scratching all of the designed targets for Jerick McKinnon. It’s going to be a work in progress to figure out the best way to supplement those calls while not conceding too much in terms of total production.
Shanahan will use empty backfield looks, but I’d be surprised to see San Francisco’s head coach go to that well too often. Shanahan has said time and again that the threat of the run is crucial in setting up explosive plays in the passing game. It’s also part of the reason why signing a versatile fullback in Kyle Juszczyk was one of his (and John Lynch’s) first orders of business. Every play, pass or run, has the ability to set an opposing defense up for another play down the line. The same exact look can result in several different outcomes in Shanahan’s offense.
Dante Pettis is the two-deep behind Marquise Goodwin. He also has some specific plays and routes that he runs out of the slot. However, all of that is exclusive from Trent Taylor’s defined role. Should Pettis continue to make strides, the 49ers will find new ways to get him on the field, but it’s not as simple as him taking all of Taylor’s reps.
This one is pretty simple. The 49ers aren’t likely to ever keep six receivers active on gameday. It’s up to James to show he’s capable of playing multiple positions should someone go down with an injury mid-game. It’s important to add that just because the rookie wasn’t active in Week 1 (and may not be active for a while) doesn’t mean that the 49ers aren’t high on him. Remember, Ahkello Witherspoon was inactive for the first month of the season before becoming a starter by season’s end. Anything can happen, and there’s a lot of football left.