When the 49ers play their best, they're untouchable. Unfortunately, they haven't played anywhere close to that level in two weeks.
Here are my grades for Week 7's loss in Minnesota.
Brock Purdy: C+
It certainly wasn't all bad for Brock, but despite everything that went on in the game, the guy that's supposed to be the "real deal" had the ball in his hands twice in the fourth quarter needing a touchdown to win the game and not only did he not deliver, but he also he turned the ball over both times.
On the plus side, Purdy did an admirable job of getting vertical in the pocket and couple of times and using his legs to either scramble for yards or extend the play. Unfortunately he also bailed on some clean pockets and continues to put the ball in harm's way by trying to throw the ball away at the last second while being sacked. Know when it's over, Brock. Take the sack and live to play another down.
I've said before that we need to see Brock play more before making any definitive statements about him, and I'm sticking to that, but it certainly looks right now like the book on him is out. It will be up to Kyle Shanahan and Purdy himself to counter the adjustments that the defense has made going forward.
Christian McCaffrey: B
Normally I'd grade all the running backs, but McCaffrey received every RB carry in this game except for one. As a receiver, McCaffrey was very good, catching in all 3 targets for 51 yards and a touchdown. As a runner, he left a lot to be desired.
All told, CMC ran for 45 yards and a paltry 3 yards per carry. He didn't have a single carry for 10 or more yards in the game. Is that all on him? Certainly not, but he didn't quite look like he was hitting the holes with his usual tenacity. I can't help but wonder how much the oblique affected him in this game.
It's also not fair to ask McCaffrey to be Superman each and every week - particularly given the other pieces on this offense. He scored at least one touchdown for the 16th straight game (including playoffs), but this clearly wasn't the best of CMC on Monday night.
In the first half, Brandon Aiyuk was fantastic. He caught all 5 of his targets for 57 yards. In the second half... woof. We'll get to that in a second, but needless to say it had to be a frustrating night for Aiyuk.
George Kittle continued to produce when actually given a chance by Kyle Shanahan, catching 5 balls for a team-leading 78 yards. If Kyle Shanahan doesn't realize by now that Kittle's most valuable contribution is catching the ball, he never will, and it's a damn shame.
Jauan Jennings got 9 targets in the game for...reasons, and caught five of them for 54 yards.
On the whole, the 49ers' receivers played well when called upon. The bigger issue was philosophical rather than physical.
Kyle Shanahan: D
I will never understand how Kyle Shanahan can be so good at calling plays while also completely unable to get the ball in the hands of his best players at certain times. The Niners have incredible skill players, but they can't help the team if the play-caller and the quarterback don't get them the football.
The 49ers' two touchdown drives of the night combined for 15 plays. Of those 15 plays, CMC, Aiyuk, or Kittle touched the ball 12 times. That's exactly how it should work. Put the ball in the hands of your best players and let them do what they do best. Unfortunately, that's not how it worked for much of the second half.
Brandon Aiyuk had one target and zero catches after halftime. Jauan Jennings lead the team in targets. Jauan Jennings shouldn't be leading any team in targets, let alone one with Aiyuk, Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey on it. That's not entirely on Kyle Shanahan of course, but he certainly has to take a big part of the blame for it.
Separately, Kyle's game management continues to stink. With 13:21 left in the game, the 49ers were down by 8 and facing a 4th and 6 from the Vikings' 37 yard line. Despite not being able to slow the Minnesota's offense down all night long and needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game, Shanahan elected to trot out his shaky field goal kicker (who had already missed from 40 yards earlier in the game) for a 55 yard attempt. Even the best case scenario in that situation leaves the 49ers still needing a touchdown, so why attempt a kick in that spot? Oh by the way, the 49ers never even got back to the Vikings' 37 yard line the rest of the game.
Kyle continues to pucker in big moments, and it's starting to cost this team games. In the past, the defense was good enough to overcome those kinds of poor decisions, but that's not the case this year. Shanahan needs to realize he doesn't have an elite defense anymore, and that the offense is going to have to pick up the slack. They can't do that if you take the ball out of their hands.
Finally, for the second straight week the team had problems getting plays in from the sideline. They were constantly rushing to snap the ball at the end of the play clock. They wasted a timeout coming out of the two minute warning because they couldn't get the play off in time, but they made up for it by wasting a timeout on the first drive of the second half for the same reason. Whether it was crowd noise or some other issue, the operation from the sideline has to improve, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of the head coach/play-caller.
The Defense: D
This post is getting a little long so I'm consolidating some things. I can't totally knock a defense that only gives up 22 points, but they clearly didn't do their job in this game. Other than the first drive of the night (which ended in an interception), Minnesota basically did whatever they wanted offensively.
Kirk Cousins perforated the defense for 35 completions and 378 yards. As a team, Minnesota embarrassed San Francisco to the tune of 452 yards - and that's without a single snap from Justin Jefferson. The Vikings went 8 of 13 on third down.
In what has become a recurring theme, the pass rush was non-existent. Last year you could at least count on Nick Bosa to get home in a big spot. This year, that's not the case. Kirk Cousins was not sacked on any of his 45 pass attempts in the game. He was rarely pressured at all, and when he did feel the heat it usually came as the result of a blitz, which exposed the soft underbelly that is the 49ers' secondary.
We'll get to Steve Wilks' role in all of this in a minute, but before we do I have to note the 49ers' poor tackling for the second straight week. Other than Dre Greenlaw this defense appears incapable of wrapping up a ball carrier and taking them to the ground. Instead of sound fundamentals, we see shoulder tackles, arm tackles, and Peanut Punches. The players told us they had to get back to fundamentals after last week in Cleveland. What happened?
Which brings us to...
Steve Wilks: F
The single biggest play of the game traces directly back to a complete lack of situational awareness by the defensive coordinator.
The Vikings have the ball at their own 40 yard line with 17 seconds left in the half and no timeouts. At best they likely only have enough time for two plays, and one of those has to be a field goal assuming they gain enough yards on the first play. The Vikings need at least 17 yards to even attempt a 60 yard field goal, and again, they have no timeouts.
Wilks decides to dial up a zero blitz with no safety help, completely isolating the 49ers' cornerbacks on islands. Kirk Cousins does his job and gives his receiver a chance at a play, Jordan Addison rips the ball away from Mooney Ward, and the Vikings end the half with a 60 yard touchdown pass to make it a two possession ball game. Credit to Addison for making a great play, but why in the hell does Wilks not have safety help when Minnesota can't stop the clock after a completion? Inexcusable lack of awareness by Steve Wilks in that spot.
Beyond that debacle, the Vikings had answers for everything the 49ers tried to do defensively in this game. For the second straight week, the opposing offense didn't look confused or surprised by the Niners' defense in any way - including the timing and location of the blitz.
Tight end TJ Hockenson was the biggest weapon in Minnesota's arsenal and clearly the man Wilks needed to scheme up to stop coming into the game. Hockenseon caught 11 of his 12 targets for 86 yards. When you only have one guy to gameplan for and you still can't stop him from getting the ball, you got out-coached.
Jake Moody: C+
If it weren't for a 55 yard field goal in the fourth quarter of this game, Jake Moody is likely out of a job on Tuesday morning.
Following a brutal 41 yard miss that would have won the game last week, Moody immediately missed his next attempt, an even closer field goal in the second quarter.
The number one quality you want in your kicker is reliability, and right now Jake Moody is anything but reliable.