Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

What we learned from the 49ers’ preseason win against the Raiders

Rohan Chakravarthi
Aug 31, 2021 at 7:00 PM--

Last week, following the 49ers' win against the Los Angeles Chargers, I wrote up the ten most important takeaways from the game.

Now, with the preseason behind us and roster cuts coming up, let's evaluate the team during this weekend's impressive 34-10 win against the Las Vegas Raiders

So, let's get into what exactly we learned from the game: the good, the average, and the bad.

The Good

1. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

After a poor performance in Week 2, where Garoppolo seemed restless and threw an interception on his only drive, the likely Week 1 starter put together a good performance in Week 3, albeit against many Las Vegas backups.

He was 4-7 for 64 yards, adding in a touchdown on the ground. The numbers may not look eye-popping, but Garoppolo's ball-placement on his completions was much, much better this week.

He had two impressive throws to WR Trent Sherfield, one on an out-route where the ball was only catchable by the receiver, who reeled in the pass for a 10-yard completion. His next pass was handed to him as he worked the middle of the field, finding WR Deebo Samuel wide open for a 24-yard completion.

His most impressive play, perhaps, came on 3rd and 13 from the LV 30, where he delivered a strike to Sherfield cutting in towards the middle of the field with the safety behind the receiver and the corner tailing him. It was similar to last week's throw to Aiyuk, when he sailed the pass a little higher and Aiyuk couldn't hold on. This time, Sherfield went up and reeled in the pass for a beautiful completion.

In addition, Garoppolo threw a nice ball on the previous incompletion to Mohammed Sanu, where the receiver failed to gain separation on the corner to make a play.

To top it all, the veteran quarterback used his legs on both a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak and a 1-yard touchdown, which has been an element of his game that has woken up this offseason.

With nice ball placement, good decision-making, and a bounce-back performance in an unknown situation with the two-quarterback gameplan, Garoppolo is a part of "The Good" this week.

2. RB Raheem Mostert

Just a week ago, Mostert had left practice with a back injury, stemming uncertainty on whether he'd see any action this preseason after only playing in eight games last season.

Well, put all the injury news aside, because Mostert was electric Sunday, rushing seven times for 53 yards, averaging 7.6 yards-per-carry.

An element that was missing from last week's running game in Los Angeles was the outside run, as JaMycal Hasty failed to establish himself as a force, averaging only 3.1 yards-per-carry and having his longest run being only seven yards.

Mostert immediately set an identity for the 49ers run game with a 17-yard rush and a 16-yard rush on the right and left side respectively, which established the outside run game and opened up the offense for play-action, the inside run, and the passing game by expanding the defense.

On the 49ers first drive, he was practically their offense, accounting for 53 of their 68 yards on their first touchdown drive.

After health concerns were placed on him to the point where he himself had to address them, Mostert looked healthy and effective in Week 3, placing him in "The Good" category as well.

3. HC Kyle Shanahan/OC Mike McDaniel

Wow. Just Wow.

This was a beautifully-called offensive game by the duo of Shanahan and McDaniel.

It was evident that they wanted to establish the running game immediately, not only to get an outside presence, but to warm up their offensive line in their offensive scheme. The blocking was working great on the runs, which sustained the length of plays.

One of the more effective early calls was Jimmy Garoppolo's early play-action call to George Kittle: their signature move where the offensive line goes with the running back and the play transitions to the left side of the field.

The duo got creative with the quarterback substitutions and made sure to mix in run and pass plays during Lance's time on the field to force the Raiders to think much more on the defensive end.

It was also evident that they tried to get both Jalen Hurd and Elijah Mitchell involved and the play calls involving both players were effective, although not always executed well. More on that later.

For the second week in a row, they dialed up a great plan during the 2-minute drill. Last week, they got a touchdown out of it and this week's drive resulted in a field goal.

By extending the field on routes and using up all portions of the field, the play-calling occupied the linebackers sometimes, which was why Lance found some running space during his short gains on the drive.

Lastly, one of the more important factors was that the offense didn't lose its identity throughout the game. The team stuck to its gameplan, resulting in long drives at the beginning, allowing the 49ers to control the pace of the game from the get-go.

4. DC DeMeco Ryans

I gave some love to the offensive side of the coaching staff, but the most impressive staffer on the team this preseason has to be defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

When former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh took the head coaching gig with the New York Jets, Ryans, a former linebacker, was promoted to the coordinator role.

With that promotion came some big shoes to fill as the 49ers defense has been very good over the past two seasons, despite health concerns.

DeMeco Ryans came out this offseason and stressed that he wanted to have a more aggressive approach, starting with the defensive line.

Well, that has certainly worked, as the 49ers continued to keep pressure on the quarterback and it seems at this point that anybody that plays on that line shines.

Ryans has found a way to continuously be aggressive while not allowing big plays in the secondary. The defensive rotation will be key for the 49ers during the regular season.

5. Offensive Line

The offensive line was great Sunday, unlike previous weeks, when the pressure came quick and sacks were an issue.

Some of it could be attributed to the starters playing extended time, but the backups also fared well in the game.

In fact, four of the top-five highest graded PFF players were offensive lineman: C Jake Brendel with a 94.4 on 56 snaps, C Dakoda Shepley with an 87.8 on 26 snaps, RT Mike McGlinchey with a 86.4 on 24 snaps, and LT Jaylon Moore with an 86.0 on 37 snaps.

The run-game was dominant from the beginning and it started with the offensive line, which got out to the second level of the defense on those outside runs, giving the running back much room to work with.

Pass protection was also impressive as the unit as a group did not give up a single sack to the Raiders, which hadn't been the case in previous weeks.

It's a great sign to see, as the unit continued to improve throughout the preseason.

The Average

1. LB Justin Hilliard

The rookie undrafted free agent Justin Hilliard was given a big task Sunday, essentially fortifying his spot on the practice squad for the team.

For the first two games of the preseason, linebacker Jonas Griffith was the main middle linebacker behind Fred Warner, which meant he was responsible for playcalling, containing the quarterback, and taking good angles to the football.

He ceded those responsibilities to Hilliard Sunday and with the big role came some ups and downs.

Hilliard's first half was not great, as the rookie missed a few tackles on runs that should have been stopped along the line of scrimmage. In addition, in pass coverage, Hilliard seemed a step slow on plays, allowing for completions to happen, which is all a part of the rookie learning experience.

However, Hilliard showcased his hit power and speed on certain plays as well, identifying the run immediately and taking a good angle, avoiding blockers, and made a tackle along the sideline, stopping what could have been a big gain.

There is certainly much to look forward to with the rookie, and his spot as a practice squad player will be there, with the possibility of joining the roster if injuries occur.

2. Trey Lance

Trey Lance was definitely an interesting case Sunday, as he made a few mistakes, but many of his non-executed plays came at the fault of his teammates.

On his first drive as the primary quarterback, Lance threw a short pass behind Jalen Hurd on third down, limiting the gain the receiver could have gotten once he caught it, forcing a 4th down. While Hurd may not have made it at all, the little fix in ball placement could've put the team in a better spot.

Later, Lance, again intending for Hurd, missed low on a semi-catchable ball, but the main problem was that Lance fixated on Hurd instead of hitting the wide open slant from the outside receiver. Whether that's the fault of the coaching staff or the quarterback is unknown.

Lance has certainly gotten better with his touch, as seen on his completion to Hurd towards the sideline while rolling to his left, and again on Hurd's biggest drop on which Lance chose to throw a mix of a fastball and a touch pass that absolutely should've been caught.

However, the decision making wasn't as crisp in this game, especially in some goal line areas.

On Lance's second-to-last drive before the half, Lance had Hurd in the slot on the left running a whip route, cutting back inside, and didn't get off his read of Jauan Jennings, who was surrounded by two defenders and dropped a pass. Had it been caught, the receiver would've been short of the touchdown anyway, resulting in a field goal. Instead, if Lance progressed to his next read, which he had time to do in the pocket, he would've hit a wide open Hurd.

With the 49ers seeming comfortable with the quarterback in the red zone, the rookie will continue to improve and execute in that area.

On the 49ers final drive before the half, Lance tried hitting Charlie Woerner in the end zone for the touchdown, but the pass was a little behind him, causing the team to kick another field goal, despite being inside the LV 10.

Still, Lance made multiple good reads on quarterback keeps to extend drives and fought resiliency as his receivers dropped multiple passes, as well as the disruption of his flow with the amount of Raiders defensive penalties during his time in the game.

His performance earns in an "Average" rating for Week 3.

The Bad

1. Jalen Hurd

There wasn't much "Bad" in a 34-10 win, but there were two players who seemed a little overwhelmed as they tried to get acclimated in their preseason debuts for the year.

One of those guys was Jalen Hurd, who had been praised on several levels by Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and his teammates, with the head coach even saying that he would make the team should he be healthy.

First of all, seeing Hurd out there was a great sign, as he competed for the first time since the 2019 preseason.

However, his play was not that great on Sunday, although there were a couple moments when he flashed his abilities.

The biggest mistake Hurd made was a drop with Nevin Lawson in coverage on a beautiful pass by Trey Lance, which began the drive for the 49ers.

Hurd ran a nice route over the middle to gain separation and the ball was spot on, but he got distracted by Lawson's presence as the cornerback attempted to break up the play and let the ball slip through his hands.

Then, on multiple of his short gains, be it an end-around or a pass, Hurd couldn't get any traction and was stopped for short gains. While the defense was around him, the receiver couldn't use that previous burst he had to make a more-impactful play, which he will look to regain on the 49ers roster.

On his second "drop", which was a low pass by Lance, Hurd also ran a poor route, which, in turn, didn't get him any separation, burning that play as Lance targeted him.

Still, Hurd had a few nice plays and was certainly a focal point as he led the team with four catches, including a nice sideline play on which Hurd continued running his route as Lance rolled to his left to avoid pressure and reeled in the pass for a first down.

Hurd was given a 49.2 PFF grade, which was the 2nd worst for a 49ers offensive player in Sunday's game, behind only tight end Jordan Matthews, who got a 32.5.

Hurd has a lot of pressure on him, given that he hasn't played, and will look to make the most of his opportunity, bringing in a physical, yet quick presence in the slot or the outside.

2. RB Elijah Mitchell

Mitchell was the other player who made his preseason debut on Sunday and he was a prized player for the 49ers as the team spent a draft pick on him despite taking Trey Sermon in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Aaand, his debut did not go great, which is expected from a rookie who hasn't gotten many reps due to injury and the crowded running back room.

Mitchell seemed out of place at times and mixed in good plays with bad plays.

On the first play of Lance's first drive as the starter, Mitchell ran to the wrong side of the quarterback, confusing Lance, causing the quarterback to lose four yards on the play.

Later in the game, Mitchell, presumably the lead blocker or going on a wheel route, collided with Hurd who was running an end-around, killing the play and almost causing a turnover as Lance had released the ball for Hurd to catch, although it slipped from his hands.

Mitchell still had some highlights, however, as he had a nice run towards the outside, gaining a first down while weaving through the defense. In addition, he had a very good 45-yard punt return on which he showcased his speed and gave the team nice field position.

To make an impact, Mitchell will need to showcase ball security and special teams production, as he could be the kick returner and maybe even the punt returner for the team, should the 49ers not bring one in.

Tune in two weeks for the takeaways following San Francisco's Week 1 game at Detroit.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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