49ers vs. Panthers Takeaways: Foster's importance; vulnerabilities on OL; more

September 11, 2017

The 49ers begin the new era under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch at 0-1. Cam Newton and the Panthers came into Levi's Stadium and pulled out a one-sided victory. But what did we learn along the way?

 

Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 1:

 

- Brian Hoyer at his best was trying to just execute the offense, and beyond that, he didn’t make it threatening. The quarterback didn’t test the defense downfield much outside of that missed connection to Marquise Goodwin, which was actually a deep on-target throw from Hoyer. The Niners offense for the most part was stagnant all day. And with 35 passing attempts equating to less than 200 yards, an interception and no touchdowns, Hoyer didn’t help it. He never made it look like they were going to break out of it, especially since he offers nothing when it comes to creating against an incoming pass rush. But in fairness to Hoyer, his offensive line rarely gave him time to go through his progressions. He needs a bounce-back week, but it'll be tough with a trip up to Seattle on deck.

 

- Goodwin and rookie Trent Taylor create space. These two receivers use high-level speed and quickness to set up some pretty safe throws for the quarterback.

 

- We know now for sure the 49ers’ interior line is the weakest aspect of the team. Zane Beadles, the left guard, is the biggest liability. But center Daniel Kilgore and right guard Brandon Fusco are also getting pushed around. They’re allowing pressure on almost every play, and they can’t create lanes for the running backs. This extreme vulnerability at the heart of their line is going to blow up so many of their plays this year before they really even get a chance to take off. Look for trade acquisition Laken Tomlinson to find his way into the lineup soon, perhaps over Beadles.

 

- Kyle Juszczyk is going to part of this offense, but the volume may not be as high as we though. He had three touches, just one run and two receptions. He was targeted four times, though, so he had a ceiling of six touches in Week 1. Shanahan used him creatively, and brilliantly, running a screen with athletic veteran tackle Joe Staley out in space as the lead blocker.

 

- There was a clear lack of fireworks from the defensive line, which is made up of a top-3 pick, a top-10 pick and a top-20 pick. Not only did they not register a sack, but the unit only managed eight pressures all game, per Pro Football Focus. Of the three young talents, only DeForest Buckner hit the QB, and just once. There is a lot expected of this position group, as there should be, and the results we saw in Week 1 are not an acceptable standard.

 

- Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, the third-round pick out of Colorado, was inactive. So, he is currently between the practice squad and active roster, which speaks to how the front office sees him as more of a developmental player. 

 

- Constant issues with penalties and game management really reflected the youth on the team, and perhaps a little on a first-time head coach. This is an area they need to get cleaned up. They had bad ones throughout preseason, and in Week 1 it showed up, as they finished with 10 penalties for 74 yards.

- Carlos Hyde physically looks the best he has in his career. He’s leaner, moving better and has a more dynamic role this year. Hyde finished Week 1 with just nine carries. Over his first eight attempts, he averaged 8.2 yards per carry as the 49ers’ lead back. Over his first two totes, he was averaging 10.0 YPC. Hyde also made an appearance in the passing game, catching all six of his targets and tying wideout Pierre Garcon for a team-high six receptions. Hyde was the team's most effective weapon.

 

- Rookie tight end George Kittle showed potential in his NFL debut. He was targeted six times and reeled in five balls. Unfortunately, they only went for a total of 27 yards, but Hoyer wasn’t pushing the ball downfield.

 

Jaquiski Tartt had a phenomenal (and half-redeeming) one-handed interception of Cam Newton near the goal line. But, starting at the single-high safety role in Jimmie Ward’s absence, he struggled that afternoon to consistently cover the field sideline to sideline. Tartt has always been known as a hit-first kind of safety, which would make him best suited for the role Eric Reid is currently playing in the box. In addition to his lack of range, Tartt had a costly personal foul penalty. The defense needs Ward back soon, or should consider starting Lorenzo Jerome in Week 2. 

 

- Long-time terror Elvis Dumervil still looks quite good. The 49ers are asking him to contribute as a pass-rush specialist, and he’s offering value there. The speed and bend aspect of his game is still very present. Dumervil could be a sleeper candidate to lead the team in sacks. 

 

- Linebacker Reuben Foster was having a game and cementing his place on the defense before he exited with a lower leg injury. Foster had a near interception, which had pick-six potential, and was all over versatile Panthers rookie Christian McCaffrey. He was even the solo linebacker in the 49ers' dime defense, with four-time All-Pro NaVorro Bowman coming off the field. After the game, Foster, who left on a cart, assured he’d be back “very, very soon,” aiming for Week 2 at Seattle. And he may be. But for what it’s worth, it was very noticeable how the energy was completely sucked out of the team and out of Levi’s Stadium after he went down. Momentum was vacated, and they never regained it. It already seems like Foster is the heart of this new era of the 49ers. 

 

 

 

Media courtesy Nhat V. Meyer of the Bay Area News Group, USA Today Sports Images

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