Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


49ers vs. Rams: Full Week 17 position grades for San Francisco

Dec 30, 2018 at 6:44 PM


The San Francisco 49ers fell to the Los Angeles Rams in ugly, turnover-prone fashion in Week 17 by a score of 48-32. Let's grade out the Niners efforts, position by position.


A final score of 48-32 makes the San Francisco 49ers' 2018 finale sound much closer than it actually was. The Niners were in the hole to the playoff-bound Los Angeles Rams 31-10 by halftime -- a score marked by four first-half turnovers, off of which the Rams scored 21 points. That sets San Francisco's season-ending turnover differential at minus-25, after the team set a new NFL all-time low in forced turnovers in a non-strike season with seven.

The 49ers recorded zero takeaways in Week 17.

Fortunately, there were some good performances by the Niners on the day, including a record-setting effort by tight end George Kittle. And despite his first-half issues, quarterback Nick Mullens ended up climbing the record books, too.

With the loss, the 49ers fall to 4-12 on the season and secured the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. That's good news, in the long run. But let's grade out the team's efforts from this ugly one-sided loss.

Quarterback


Mullens was directly responsible for three of those four turnovers, tossing each in the first half. One was picked off by Rams safety Blake Countess in the end zone, while linebacker Corey Littleton picked off two, one of which he returned for a 19-yard pick-six touchdown.

Fortunately, Mullens bounced back afterwards despite being under constant pass-rush pressure throughout the game. He hit wide receiver Richie James for a 9-yard touchdown late in the first half, and then found wide receiver Kendrick Bourne on this nifty 2-yard red-zone touchdown in the fourth quarter:


Overall, Mullens was 23-of-33 for 282 yards, three touchdowns against three interceptions for a passer rating of 88.2 -- not bad, considering just how awful his first-half efforts mostly were.

Oh, and Mullens climbed another record book, too, moving into fourth place for the most pass yards by a quarterback over his first eight starts (2,277).

First-half grades? Very bad. Second-half grades? Pretty good. Give him credit for bouncing back.

Grade: C-

Running Back


The 49ers suffered a pretty big setback early, when running back Jeff Wilson suffered a shoulder injury and left on a cart, never to return. With Matt Breida (ankle) now on injured reserve, veteran tailback Alfred Morris got the lion's share of carries in the game. He finished with 111 yards on 16 carries, including a 51-yard scamper that led to the 49ers' first score. It was good to see Morris have a solid effort after scantly being used this season.

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk, however, coughed up a fumble early, which led to seven Rams points. That set the tone for the game.

Grade: B-

Wide Receiver


Like running back, the Niners were also banged up at wide receiver, although they knew that heading into the game and were forced to start Bourne and Trent Taylor in Week 17.

Bourne managed his touchdown, one of five catches for 59 yards. Taylor, meanwhile, had only three grabs for 17 yards. James ended up being the bigger-impact player, though, as he hit end-zone pay dirt and finished with 32 yards on three receptions. The Niners may be better with James as a slot option next season.

Grade: B

Tight End


About the only exciting thing for San Francisco fans in the game was watching Kittle close in on the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski's record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season. Earlier in the day, the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce set the record and held it for a few hours before Kittle smashed it with a 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter:


Kittle finished the game with 149 yards on nine catches and the score, wrapping up his Pro Bowl 2018 season with a new NFL record, 1,377 yards.

Grade: A+

Offensive Line


San Francisco's offensive line had a rough day against defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams front seven, surrendering just three sacks but nine quarterback hits. And one could argue two of Mullens' three interceptions were directly the result of pressure up the middle. Donald routinely beat interior linemen Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg and Mike Person, while outside linebacker Dante Fowler worked very effectively off the edge.

To add injury to insult, Tomlison exited on a cart after his leg collided with Fowler, forcing seldom-used guard Joshua Garnett into the game. The 49ers fear Tomlinson has a torn ACL, which isn't good news at all heading into the offseason.

Grade: F

Defensive Line


There wasn't much to brag about from the 49ers' own defensive-front efforts. The Rams were able to rush for 155 total yards, with 132 of those coming from backup running back C.J. Anderson, who averaged 5.7 yards per attempt. The D-line also failed to record a sack and managed just two quarterback hits as well.

San Francisco needs an outside pass-rusher, so it's a good thing the team has that second overall pick in a loaded edge-rusher class.

Grade: D

Linebacker


This position was marked more by injury than anything else, as linebacker Fred Warner came in and out of the lineup on multiple occasions with injury. Fellow linebacker Elijah Lee was also hurt at a point in the second half.

Warner and Lee combined for 24 tackles, though, with Lee recording a tackle for a loss. Lee should be in strong consideration for a key backup role at worst next season.

Grade: C

Secondary


The 49ers gave up a ton of points on Sunday, but they didn't exactly give up a lot of yardage. That has a lot to do with turnovers, of course, which didn't help. Overall, though, the Niners surrendered just 222 pass yards to the Rams, although one has to note Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff came out in favor of Sean Mannion when the game was no longer in doubt.

Oh, and cornerback Richard Sherman also sat out the second half in an effort to give younger defensive backs, like Greg Mabin, extra field time. Mabin didn't look good, though, as he gave up a long touchdown to Rams wide receiver Josh Reynolds. Safety Antone Exum was flagged for a hit on wideout Robert Woods, although it was a questionable call to say the least. Rookie cornerback Tarvarius Moore also had excellent coverage on one play against the speedster, Brandin Cooks.

Safety Marcell Harris looked solid, however, and he's also in contention for a key role on defense in 2019. While his coverage remains questionable, his efforts to constantly rip the ball away from opponents' ball carriers should help next year's prospects for a better turnover differential.

Grade: C+
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
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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