49ers report card

Handing out grades to the 49ers for their performance in a 23-13 season-opening loss to the Arizona Cardinals while breaking down the positives, negatives and bottom line in every area of the team.

J.T. O'Sullivan displayed that he can indeed run the Mike Martz offense with efficiency, completing 70 percent of his passes and averaging a tremendous 9.75 yards per pass and 13.9 yards per completion. He displayed some good mobility in the pocket and an ability to weave through traffic and keep plays alive. His 80.2 quarterback rating was decent for a guy making his first NFL start.
Negatives: O'Sullivan's three turnovers helped doom would could have been a considerably more productive day by the offense, and while blind-side pressure produced both of his lost fumbles, his awareness in the pocket continues to be an issue. O'Sullivan said himself that it's a no-no to throw deep down the middle late in the development of a play, and when he did that Sunday it resulted in his lone interception.
Bottom line: It would have been nice to see what O'Sullivan could have done in the second half after working out the kinks in the first two quarters, but the Niners had only one offensive possession in the first 28 minutes of the second half. His debut was an uneven performance that showed promise, but it ultimately led to a loss in a pivotal season opener.

Frank Gore was at his best, a threat to dance and power for yardage every time he touched the ball. He averaged 6.9 yards a pop while finishing with 96 yards rushing, and added four receptions for 55 yards to account for 151 yards from scrimmage - more than half San Francisco's final total. His 41-yard touchdown burst showed Gore in top form. Fullback Zak Keasey had several nice blocks to spring Gore.
Negatives: Keasey's lost fumble deep in San Francisco territory knocks down the final grade here significantly. He took a big hit, but fullbacks have to hold onto the football during the few times they get it in their hands. Gore also fumbled deep in San Francisco territory without even being hit, but the 49ers recovered that one.
Bottom line: Gore touched the ball 18 times and averaged 8.4 yards each opportunity. You can't ask for much more than that. San Francisco's backfield duo, however, cannot be putting the ball on the ground twice a game.

Bryant Johnson looked like a big-play threat in his 49ers debut with three receptions for 48 yards. Arnaz Battle responded with a 16-yard reception on third-and-11 to keep San Francisco's lone second-half scoring drive moving. The downfield blocking by this unit also was solid.
Negatives: Starting flanker Isaac Bruce was missing in action. This unit seemed a bit out of sync with O'Sullivan and had trouble getting open all afternoon. These receivers need to help out their QB better by coming back to the ball when plays break down. On the big stage, rookie Josh Morgan did not look quite like the same guy who tore it up during the preseason.
Bottom line: The receivers need to be more involved in Mike Martz's offense than they were against the Cardinals, who worked hard on defense to take underneath passes away. With the 49ers using several three- and four-receiver sets, this unit needs to be more productive.

TIGHT ENDS -- Grade: B-plus
The blocking of Vernon Davis and Billy Bajema was solid. Davis showed glimpses of what he's capable in this offense with a 37-yard catch-and-run down the middle. He also had a 12-yard catch that produced a first down on a drive that led to a field goal while finishing with three receptions for 51 yards.
Negatives: Not many here, but the 49ers didn't find many ways to get Delanie Walker involved. He played only six snaps. Of course, both Davis and Walker might have been used more had the 49ers ran more than 15 offensive plays in the second half.
Bottom line: A strong opening effort by a unit that did its job and showed potential for promising things this season.

OFFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: C-plus
The blocking up front in the run game was excellent. David Baas had a nice seal block on Gore's touchdown run and Tony Wragge had a strong game at right guard. The line adjusted well on the fly after starting center Eric Heitmann left the game with a shoulder injury. The line interior did a decent job picking up blitzes, a tactic Arizona used throughout the day.
Negatives: O'Sullivan was sacked four times while throwing only 20 passes. He was pressured several other times and hit on four other occasions. Tackles Joe Staley and Jonas Jennings both were beaten for sacks that produced lost fumbles. Heitmann, the team's most consistent lineman, suffered an AC-joint sprain but was able to return to the game.
Bottom line: Considering the 49ers had four linemen starting at new positions compared to the finish of last season, this was not a bad opening effort, but the protection for O'Sullivan must improve, because opponents will watch this film and keep coming after him.

DEFENSIVE LINE -- Grade: C-plus
It was a yeoman effort by Justin Smith, who participated in all 73 defensive snaps in his 49ers debut and was in on a lot of plays with seven tackles, half a sack and two QB hits. Ray McDonald also provided nice interior pressure on several passing downs. Isaac Sopoaga got to the ball and was in on five tackles. Arizona kept pounding the rock, but ultimately averaged just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt.
Negatives: Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin did not always hold the point of attack well, and that's a recurring problem. The Cardinals were able to convert on two crucial fourth-down runs, including a 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter when the left side of San Francisco's line was gouged and collapsed. McDonald's roughing-the-passer penalty on third down kept Arizona's final touchdown drive alive, but it was a weak call by the officials.
Bottom line: A steady effort, but unit did not respond on several big plays when the 49ers needed a big stop.

Unit was active throughout the day and Patrick Willis and Rod Green both made plays in pass coverage. Takeo Spikes and Parys Haralson both made tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The 49ers spent a lot of time in a 4-3 set and Willis, Manny Lawson and Jeff Ulbrich each finished with five tackles or more. Haralson had a standout game with four tackles, 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hits despite seeing situational playing time.
Negatives: The Cardinals did an excellent job of keeping Willis out of plays, and he could not fill the hole in time on Tim Hightower's two-yard touchdown run that put Arizona in command.
Bottom line: A standout performance from Haralson, and generally solid play all around.

Unit was opportunistic in first half, when Arizona converted on just 1 of 7 third-down opportunities, most of them passing plays. Nate Clements did a good job in man coverage on Larry Fitzgerald most of the day. There were not a lot of big plays down the field by Arizona's explosive receivers. The tight ends were pretty much taken out of the game.
Negatives: Clements lost position and was turned around by Fitzgerald on his 1-yard touchdown reception in the corner of the end zone. Steve Breaston got loose for a 40-yard reception on third-and-7 to set up Fitzgerald's touchdown. The 49ers failed to match up well in the second half with Anquan Boldin, who burned them for each of his eight receptions in the final two quarters while keeping the chains moving on two long Arizona drives.
Bottom line: If the outcome on the scoreboard had been different, this unit would get a higher grade. But ultimately the 49ers needed better here, particularly in the second half when San Francisco needed to get the ball back, but couldn't.

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Grade: D-minus
Allen Rossum had a nice 44-yard kickoff return in the second quarter to give the 49ers their best starting field position of the day. The kickoff coverage was solid. Joe Nedney split the uprights on routine field goals from 39 and 30 yards.
Negatives: There was confusion from Rossum on a couple of punt-return opportunities which cost the 49ers yardage. Takeo Spikes' consequential muff of a kickoff that led to Arizona's final touchdown might have been the key play of the day. The 49ers also don't want to see Kentwan Balmer returning kickoffs. Andy Lee's 35.0-yard net on punts was below his usual standard, and a penalty on punt coverage cost the 49ers a lot of yards.
Bottom line: The 49ers lost the battle for field position throughout the day, and these usually dependable units played a large role in that. The Cardinals targeted Spikes on a short kickoff, and he blew it in the game's pivotal sequence.

COACHING -- Grade: D-plus
The 49ers came up with the right calls on defense several times in the first half to push back the Cardinals after the Arizona offense had been put in optimum situations. Mike Martz did a nice job balancing the offense, which featured 20 passes and 20 running plays.
Negatives: As usual, the 49ers wasted a few timeouts that could have come in handy later. Arizona clearly made the better adjustments at halftime and San Francisco could do little to respond in the decisive final two quarters.
Bottom line: You can't put the blame on coaches for five turnovers. But the 49ers did not show much intensity or improvement with everything to gain in a rather pivotal season opener at home against one of the top opponents in their division. If the 49ers can't get it up and respond in that kind of situation, what are they waiting for?

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