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Why the Chargers Almost Shocked the 49ers

Rust, referees, mistakes, conservative play calling and great throws by Herbert were almost enough for the Chargers to shock the 49ers.

Let's take a look at my keys to the game:

No NFL team is ever easy to beat, not even ones that are heavily injured. 

Especially when the referees do everything they can to help the injured team. The unwarranted ejection of Dre Greenlaw, the non-calls of helmet to helmet hits on Brandon Aiyuk and Elijah Mitchell, the non-call of a blatant facemask on Deebo Samuel and the repeated non-calls of false starts by Chargers offensive tackles, were just a few examples.

Justin Herbert is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL, who is able to elevate his weapons.

Herbert had some fantastic throws. Great offense beats great defense. If not for key drops, his efforts might've been enough to beat the 49ers.

Austin Ekeler is a scoring machine, who is on pace for more than 1,600 scrimmage yards, as well as more than 21 touchdowns. He is technically a running back, but really he's an offensive weapon similar to Deebo Samuel or Christian McCaffrey.

Ekeler had just 63 yards on 13 touches and no touchdowns. Wide receiver DeAndre Carter was the surprise player with 4 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.

The Chargers interior offensive line is very good and defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw won't play Sunday. Linebackers Azeez Al-Shaair and Greenlaw have both practiced, but neither is certain to play.

The Chargers didn't run the ball nearly as much or as well as I had expected them to, but their interior offensive line did give Herbert lots of time to throw. The 49ers had to blitz in order to generate timely pressures.

The Chargers run defense is weak, but they still have star edge Khalil Mack and super star safety Derwin James, who play almost any position, on defense, other than defensive tackle.

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Mack played very well in run defense, as well generating many pressures. James held George Kittle to just one catch for the entire contest and hit Aiyuk to force the 49ers only turnover of the game.

The 49ers are also likely to be rusty, after having their bye week last week.

The 49ers defense looked dazed and confused to begin the game. They had at least two blown coverages that led to them surrendering a rare opening drive touchdown to the Chargers, a very uncommon occurrence for both the Chargers offense and the 49ers defense. My family was worried, but I told them not to be. Rust was something that I had expected. I figured fans might be worried, so I tweeted this:

I thought that Kyle Shanahan would ease Elijah Mitchell back in slowly, after not playing for more than two months. I'm glad that he didn't, as Mitchell was more efficient than McCaffrey on the ground. McCaffrey had some nice catches, as well as a rushing touchdown. Overall, they were fairly even for touches and total scrimmage yards. Mitchell's stumble on 3rd and goal in the fourth quarter probably cost him a touchdown and kept him from being the 49ers best running back on Sunday night.

Nick Bosa was a menace, with 9 pressures and a shoestring sack of Herbert that may have saved a touchdown. My MVP of the game.

Jauan Jennings had some big catches behind the sticks that he willed into first downs with amazingly tough runs after contact. He was the best 49ers receiver against the Chargers. Aiyuk surpassed 80 receiving for his fourth game in a row, but his lost fumble and dropped touchdown catch both marred marred his performance.

Fred Warner was everywhere. Talanoa Hufanga atoned for his blown coverage on the opening drive touchdown by intercepting Herbert to ice the game. Al-Shaair played well when Greenlaw got ejected. DeMeco Ryans made some great second half adjustments, mainly by blitzing more, to keep his opponent from scoring a single point after halftime for the second game in row. Deommodore Lenoir will need to continue to improve.

I said all last week that moving forward in 2022 my main concerns were Jimmy Garoppolo and Mike McGlinchey. Garoppolo played pretty well, with zero turnovers. He even threw the ball away at least once. He had an absolute dime that was deep and outside the numbers to Ray-Ray McCloud. He threw a pass to Aiyuk that should've been caught for touchdown. There were several other throws that were very nice. There were also several throws that were high or behind our receivers. These not only rob our weapons of gaining extra yards, but also put our weapons in much greater jeopardy of being injured. Just like we saw in 2021, the Chargers defense stacked the box to stop the run. Expect to see more of this, unless Garoppolo can prove to be more effective throwing the ball deep with more consistency. McGlinchey gave up lots pressures, a sack and missed several run blocks as well. I'd like to see how Colton McKivitz can do at right tackle. Shanahan needs to be less predictable with his play calling. I'd like to see more play-action on first down and not so many consecutive run plays.

Rust, referees, mistakes, conservative play calling and great throws by Herbert were almost enough for the Chargers to shock the 49ers. I thought the 49ers would win by a wider margin, but I'm not too worried moving forward, as long they can clean up the mistakes on offense and get some more aggressive play calling to score more touchdowns and settle for fewer field goal attempts.

Keep an eye out for my Arizona Cardinals preview article which will drop later this week.