San Francisco’s blowout win against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night refreshed a long-forgotten feeling of optimism in the mouth’s of 49ers fans.
And it should.
The victory was a complete team effort, with both sides of the ball showcasing the depth and talent hidden on the 49ers roster by more prominent roster holes.
Individuals key to the 49ers future success, like as Arik Armstead, Carlos Hyde, NaVorro Bowman and Jimmie Ward, all looked outstanding in their season debuts. Likewise, the 49ers entire offensive line looks primed to give Chip Kelly’s offense a chance to shine moving forward.
One promising outing against the bottom-rung Rams doesn’t immediately catapult the 49ers back into the playoff discussion. The 49ers will be put to a more legitimate test with their upcoming four-game gauntlet against a group of potential Super Bowl contenders at Carolina and Seattle before returning home to host Dallas and Arizona.
More so than the Rams, the coming month will offer a genuine glimpse into how much the 49ers need to grow talent-wise in order to once again contend at a high level.
But, that doesn’t mean there weren’t notable takeaways from Monday night:
Blaine Gabbert wasn’t bad. But he wasn’t good.
Gabbert completed 22-of-35 passes, including one touchdown for 170 yards and a passer rating of 84.2. The former first-round pick also added 43 more yards on the ground while not turning the ball over once to a hounding Rams defense.
On the surface, it seems hard to poke holes in a performance like that.
However, only two quarterbacks threw for fewer yards in Week 1, and one was Rams starter Case Keenum. Despite completing 22 throws, Gabbert’s meager averaged just 7.7 yards per reception.
San Francisco’s receiving corps isn’t exactly the most talented bunch in the world, but Gabbert seems hesitant to push the ball downfield, despite having an offensive line that can now hold up in pass protection.
When Gabbert did attempt to make big gains through the air, the results weren’t always pretty. Gabbert missed a wide-open Jeremy Kerley on a post-route that would have been a big gain in the first quarter. And while he also escaped unscathed on the night, the Rams missed multiple opportunities to come up with interceptions.
Gabbert also made several off-the-mark throws throughout the night, such as the 4th and 1 pass to Torrey Smith that led to a turnover.
But it wasn’t all bad either.
Gabbert proved that Colin Kaepernick isn’t the only quarterback on the 49ers who can chew up yardage with his legs, showing no fear in taking on the heavy hitting Rams defenders while fighting to move the chains.
The fourth-year player also made several notably strong looking passes as well, including a nice 35-yard gain to WR Quinton Patton and a pin-point toss to TE Garrett Celek in the fourth quarter that would set up San Francisco’s final touchdown.
For Gabbert, the key moving forward is simply consistency. If he can find better accuracy in his throws and keep defenses honest with his legs, San Francisco has a chance to build on Monday’s offensive outburst.
Carlos Hyde can be an elite running back.
If Hyde were to be judged solely on the way he opens up a season on Monday Night Football, he’d be on his way to the Hall of Fame. The third-year back has exploded in his last two season openers, rushing for 256 yards and four touchdowns in that span.
Like Gabbert, Hyde’s key to success is simply consistency in both his rushing and his health in order to climb the NFL echelon. But he has all the tools to do so.
Hyde’s mix of athleticism and power makes him a struggle for opposing defenses to contain. While the bulky back isn’t afraid to punish opposing defenders, Hyde has also shown his ability to make athletic cuts to break free of defenders.
The young Hyde continues to add to his repertoire as well, as he showcased a new stutter-step move similar to the dynamic Le’Veon Bell on Monday night to help him plunge into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown to open the season.
If Hyde can stay healthy, there’s no doubt he can notch his first 1,000-plus yard season this year. Especially with his revamped offensive line, which brings us to:
Monday night’s offensive line will be the starting unit moving forward.
That means no Anthony Davis, barring an injury to either Joe Staley or Trent Brown. Davis’ reluctancy to play the guard position was highlighted when backup center Marcus Martin took over at right guard for a few snaps when Andrew Tiller was sidelined with a foot injury.
The group passed their first test with flying colors, blowing open running lanes against a tough Rams front that saw the 49ers notch three rushing touchdowns while eating up 150 total rushing yards.
It’s hard to imagine a situation where one of the 49ers best run blockers, and former 11th overall pick in the draft, in Davis is relegated to backup duty. But it’s as much a testament to his indifference in switching out of his tackle position as it is the fact that both Tiller and Brown represent talented and proven replacements on the right side of the line.
For now, Davis is just a high-quality backup, which is worth it’s own merit since the 49ers run game could use some insurance depth after last year’s debacle.