After toppling the visiting Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park and reflecting on the win, the scope of this year’s team has begun to come into focus—their strengths, their weaknesses and which position groups—recently subject to change—are still evolving in the early weeks of the season.
Even though there is significant personnel carryover from years past, this is largely a new-look team. The quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, cornerback and safety positions have all been remodeled to some degree or another. The outside linebackers and defensive line were also touched on.
That is precisely why this first week in September was viewed as the official unveiling of coach Jim Harbaugh’s team of the future.
Proceed through the following for full grades and analysis of the 2013 49ers by position.
Statistics provided by NFL.com Game Center and Pro Football Reference.
Colin Kaepernick: 27-of-39, 412 yards, 3 touchdowns
The 49ers' starting quarterback played lights-out in his Week 1 debut.
Only scraping together 22 yards on the ground, he was challenged to outscore Aaron Rodgers and Co. from the pocket—and he did. It was an impressive display by Kaepernick, to say the least. Heading into his first full season, he proved to everyone that he has elite passing skills.
It is good to know that Kap is no flash in the pan and that he is here to stay.
This win over Green Bay, especially with the Packers gunning for him, was quite validating.
Frank Gore: 21 attempts, 44 yards, 1 touchdown
Kendall Hunter: 6 attempts, 24 yards
Pretty minimal production for a run-first team, no?
San Francisco is almost always a lock for 100-plus yards of production from its running backs. Gore and Hunter only had 68 rushing yards combined, which is enough to make regular fans do a double take on the stat sheet.
Gore’s 2.0 yards-per-carry average was the second lowest of his NFL career when having 20 or more carries. The last time and only time he had such low numbers was in Week 1 of 2009 versus the Arizona Cardinals.
RB Frank Gore has only 12 carries for 25 yards, but he has been outstanding in pass pro and blocking overall #Niners— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 8, 2013
Anquan Boldin: 13 receptions, 208 yards, 1 touchdown
Kyle Williams: 3 receptions, 36 yards
Two—yes, only two—wide receivers finished with catches on Sunday.
Still, these two (or one) had the production of several wide receivers, and it was enough given what the tight ends were offering. The 49ers only went in with four active wideouts and two barely saw any time at all.
From the get-go, this seemed like it would be a game that would greatly favor the tight ends, given Green Bay’s ineptitude at safety and its lack of a hybrid linebacker who can run and cover big, fast players.
So when San Francisco only had one true WR rise to the occasion, it was not a terrible surprise.
For Week 1, the Anquan Boldin show would suffice, but the 49ers are going to need to spread the ball around more in the coming games. He is not going to put up 200-plus yards every week. More than likely, it will never happen again.
Going forward, Kyle Williams and Quinton Patton need to get involved so the ball distribution isn’t so lopsided.
Anquan Boldin (208 rec yards) now owns the franchise record for most receiving yards on opening day. #49ers— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 9, 2013
Vernon Davis: 6 receptions, 98 yards, 2 touchdowns
Vance McDonald: 1 reception, 25 yards
There is a lot of size, speed and big-play ability from this group, which is why the 49ers have been able to lean on it for production in the passing game. As mentioned prior, the workload it was able to shoulder balanced out the wide receiving corps, providing it with some much-needed support.
At the end of the day, Davis averaged 16.3 yards per catch and McDonald averaged 25.0 yards. Together, they went over 100 yards, moving the chains and scoring on several occasions.
But this is another sect that could’ve done more as a tandem. Davis did have a stellar day, but we’re grading the position as a whole, not just a single player. Had the 49ers done more to incorporate McDonald into the game plan, this was a group with A+ potential, especially against this opponent.
Once fans see what these two are truly capable of this season, this grade will make more sense.
Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone, Anthony Davis
It was not a perfect game by the 49ers' offensive line, but it was darn close. This unit had to stand up and pass block on 39 snaps and only allowed two sacks on its quarterback, who tends to improvise and do a little dancing behind the line of scrimmage. The offensive line is still getting acclimated to its dual-threat quarterback, as well as pass blocking more than run blocking.
All things considered, this front did a solid job.
The one blunder was a missed assignment by left guard Mike Iupati, who did not slide over in time to pick up blitzing linebacker Clay Matthews, essentially allowing him a free run at the quarterback. No. 52 registered the sack.
Against the run and pass, the team also had a tough time with returning defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, who did a great job at pushing the pocket and clogging rushing lanes. He was problematic and tough for Alex Boone and Anthony Davis to move on a consistent basis.
Still, this was a game that the 49ers won up front. Another strong showing by the No. 1-rated O-line, via Pro Football Focus.
#49ers Joe Staley on what he said to Clay Matthews: “Expletive. Expletive. Expletive. Thank you.”— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) September 9, 2013
Justin Smith, Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Ray McDonald
On the whole, this group registered a solid performance, especially considering that 50 percent of it is brand new. This was a position group that was made over in the offseason, but it held up against the run and the pass in its first outing together.
The strong play from the ends, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, has been the foundation for what makes this a proficient bunch. NT Ian Williams then plugged into the 0-technique this year, giving the 49ers a honking presence in the middle.
The 49ers only allowed 63 yards on the ground from four different runners—however, that did include a touchdown. The pressure could have been better than it was, too, but it was a strong start for a remodeled unit.
I feel like Justin Smith should get a half sack everytime Aldon Smith gets 1.— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) September 8, 2013
Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks
As per usual, inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman led the day in tackles, racking up seven solos and one assist. The linebackers patrolled the field pretty efficiently; they didn’t let runs outside and held up well against the tight ends.
49ers All-Pro rush linebacker Aldon Smith also brought his lunch pail, getting after Aaron Rodgers throughout the game, which included two sacks of the Packers quarterback. Again, he provided a much-needed dimension.
However, people expect a little more out of this unit as a whole.
The downside of the linebackers' performance was how they let rookie running back Eddie Lacy dance on them for 41 yards and a touchdown. The worst part about it was that this allowed Green Bay to strike up a balance for the first time in three games, almost giving it a win against San Francisco.
The fact that it could’ve cost them the game kicks the total grade down a notch.
Aldon Smith is a created player.— SportsNation (@SportsNation) September 8, 2013
Tarell Brown, Nnamdi Asomugha, Carlos Rogers, Perrish Cox
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers worked the 49ers' cornerbacks for 238 yards and two touchdowns (333 yards, three touchdowns total). Two-thirds of his production came from the wideouts, who were exploiting the ‘Niners' cornerbacks on Sunday. And for a while there, the target to pick on was cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
But even beyond the newcomer, Brown and Rogers had their struggles.
Tarell Brown, pictured above, is San Francisco's best cover corner right now, and even he had a hard time against this receiving corps. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb proved to be quite problematic (James Jones was shut out).
The 49ers' corners were not battling for the football, and when it came to properly guarding the receiver, all the corners got out of optimal position on a few occasions. Fortunately, the San Francisco offense was buzzing that day, which alleviated some of the stress on this secondary group, which was susceptible to being torched by Rodgers.
It was a good warm-up game, but this unit can play better.
"Nnamdi Asomugha has to step it up this season." - Deion Sanders on the #49ers defensive back— NFL Media PR (@InsideNFLMedia) September 8, 2013
Donte Whitner and Eric Reid
Honestly, there was not much to hear about safety Donte Whitner, the veteran who is entering his third season with the team. He started and finished the game, but flew under the radar and was not as much of a presence.
But perhaps that is a good thing.
There were no blown coverages that were apparent, at least. He had a few solid hits on the ball-carrier, finishing second in tackles on the day behind inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Even with that being the case, it was rookie first-round pick Eric Reid who stepped into the spotlight on Sunday.
He had multiple bone-jarring hits and even intercepted Aaron Rodgers in his first-ever regular-season game.
It was an impressive debut for Reid, but again, this is a positional group that has the ceiling to play a lot better than it did. As the rookie continues to develop his on-field chemistry with Whitner, this unit should progress over the season. Not to mention, they will have more favorable opponents than the Packers.
49ers Jim Harbaugh on his rookie db after today's win against packers, " I thought Eric Reid, he showed he belongs out there."— Alex Flanagan (@Alex_Flanagan) September 9, 2013
Andy Lee, Kevin McDermott and Phil Dawson
The 49ers' special teams kickers are always aces.
Outside of Dawson’s one missed field goal, the unit was nearly perfect (2-of-3 on FGs, 4-of-4 on extra points). Collectively, the kickers did an exceptional job capitalizing on points and winning the field-position battle.
Return and Coverage
The 49ers' kickoff unit has had worse days.
As a matter of fact, it looked fairly sharp throughout the game. Cornerback Perrish Cox and running back Anthony Dixon both had nice returns on the afternoon, while the coverage unit was on it, highlighted by a fourth-quarter hit by C.J. Spillman.