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San Francisco 49ers

Five under-the-radar reasons Shanahan had to stick with Mullens

Jon Chik

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Quarterback Nick Mullens and Coach Kyle Shanahan

Forgive us for stating the obvious here at Locked On 49ers, but San Francisco truly had no choice but to go with Nick Mullens over C.J. Beathard. This assessment aims to look beyond the typical go-to statistics and even the eye test to find some under-the-radar reasons why Mullens needs to be the man for the rest of the season.

1. Mullens is set up for big-time success in the upcoming weeks

By sticking with Nick Mullens for foreseeable future, the 49ers have a golden opportunity to propel his confidence through the roof.

Up next, San Francisco gets another primetime home game, this time on Monday Night Football against the 1-7 Giants. Their middle-of-the-road pass defense has likely been hampered by the trade of Eli Apple, and other than Landon Collins, every member of New York’s starting secondary has received a grade of 58.9 or worse from Pro Football Focus, so they could be ripe for the picking when Mullens suits up for start No. 2.

Then, San Francisco gets its bye, giving the coaching staff and Mullens ample time to prepare for a Buccaneers pass defense that has been downright terrible. The Bucs have given up 307.1 passing yards per game (third-worst in the league) and have allowed opposing signal-callers to post a cumulative quarterback rating of 124.3 (dead last in the league).

If he’s on his game like he was against the Raiders, Mullens is more than capable of once again carving up these subpar defensive backfields.

Could C.J. Beathard have also improved against the Raiders and the upcoming slate of weak opponents? It’s possible. It’s also unlikely, seeing as how Beathard struggled mightily in two matchups with the Cardinals and didn’t fare much better in any of his other starts, with the one exception coming in a Monday Night Football clash with the Packers.

With an excellent performance already under his belt, Mullens is primed to keep the ball rolling over his next two games.

 2. “C.J. Beathard is really tough, but…”

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: Beathard is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league, and pound-for-pound, he could be the toughest player on the 49ers. He should be commended for routinely pulling himself off the ground and staggering forward, despite absorbing bone-jarring hit after bone-jarring hit.

But that’s the thing. A quarterback’s greatest asset shouldn’t be his physical toughness. Imagine if “toughness” was the first trait that came to mind when discussing Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. It would be a recipe for disaster because a quarterback can only absorb so many punishing collisions before an inevitable injury.

Whenever anyone talks about Beathard, the discussion inevitably starts with “He’s really tough, but…”. He’s really tough, but he holds onto the ball for way too long. He’s really tough, but he doesn’t have great pocket presence. He’s really tough, but it looks like the 49ers reached when they took him in the third round. He’s really tough, but he’s responsible for far too many turnovers.

Let’s hope Mullens takes the reins, stays upright while avoiding such violent collisions and never even allows us to find out just how tough he is. He’s off to a good start seeing as how he exited Levi’s Stadium with a clean jersey after not getting sacked a single time against the Raiders. Speaking of which…

3. Mullens didn’t take any sacks

Common criticisms of Beathard include a lack of decisiveness, hanging onto the ball for too long and taking too many sacks. In fact, the second-year Iowa product was sacked 18 times in his five starts.

While one game against an unmotivated Raiders team is obviously a small sample size, Mullens flashed quick decision-making and a fast release, which allowed him to stay upright and keep the pass rush off his back.

As Niner fans are well aware, sacks are drive-killers, and Mullens consistently got the ball away while rarely allowing any of Oakland’s pass-rushers to get anywhere near him. It’s not a coincidence that the 49ers put up a season-high 34 points on the same night that they allowed no sacks.

4. Shanahan risked losing the team if he went back to Beathard

Imagine being a player on the 49ers. You and your teammates have suffered six straight losses (five started by Beathard) going into last Thursday’s tilt with the Raiders. The offense has been inconsistent at its best and inept at its worst.

Suddenly, a beacon of hope emerges in the form of an undrafted free agent. With limited expectations, the 23-year-old second-year player makes mincemeat of the Raiders’ defense, completing 16-of-22 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, igniting your team to a 34-3 victory in front of a national audience.

Imagine if all this happened, Mullens’ incredible performance was ignored by the decision-makers, and they inexplicably turned back to Beathard for the following game. You’d be disheartened, disappointed, bewildered and perhaps fed up with the coaching staff.

As noted at Locked On 49ers, the players have continued to compete hard for Kyle Shanahan and company, despite a lack of wins over the past two seasons, but the second-year head coach would have been playing with fire if he sent Mullens back to the bench.

As it is, Shanahan has recognized that Mullens seized his opportunity, and he has rightfully rewarded him with another primetime start against the Giants. Doing so sends a positive message to the rest of the team, as Shanahan has reinforced the notion that players can earn a spike in playing time if they perform during games.

5. We won!

Simple, but true.

Once again, it’s important to remember that it’s just one game and that Mullens and company were up against a group of players who looked they wanted to be anywhere else in the world.

But Mullens didn’t fly under the radar in his NFL debut; he was the biggest reason why the 49ers routed the Raiders, as he reinvigorated a stagnant offense and performed better than just about anyone could have anticipated.

Beathard’s struggles in the win-loss department have never been caused by a lack of effort and certainly not for a lack of heart, but 1-9 as an NFL starter is 1-9 as an NFL starter. Mullens, meanwhile, is in prime position to improve to 2-0.

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: Weekly Wink, Trade Rumors

Brian Peacock

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https://cms.megaphone.fm/channel/lockedonnfl?selected=LKN1790036475
  • Guest: Nick Winkler
  • Jalen Ramsey trade rumors intensify
  • Is it worth spending on offensive tackle Trent Williams?
  • Could young star safety Jamal Adams hit the trade market?
  • 49ers primed for a 3-0 start

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: 49ers-Steelers Crossover

Brian Peacock

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© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
  • Guests: Tony Serino and Christopher Carter of Locked On Steelers
  • What to expect from second-year QB Mason Rudolph, who is starting in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger
  • How new Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick fits in
  • Predictions

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San Francisco 49ers

49ers vs. Bengals: San Francisco Week 2 Game Balls & Highlights

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49ers Bengals Week 2 Game Balls Highlights
© Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Game balls and highlights from the San Francisco 49ers’ 41-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of the 2019 NFL regular season.

On yesterday’s Locked On 49ers Podcast, host Brian Peacock provided a rundown of the Niners’ game — including game notes and key takeaways — and handed out four game balls to the San Francisco 49ers from their Week 2 blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 49ers made a statement to the rest of the league during their second consecutive road victory to start the 2019 NFL regular season. Outside of a long garbage-time touchdown given up in the final minute of the matchup, the 49ers’ defense was dominant, finishing the game with four sacks, nine tackles-for-loss and one interception.

But despite holding the Bengals to just 25 yards on 19 rushing attempts, San Francisco’s offensive unit shined the brightest in Week 2 — which brings us to our first game ball:

49ers HC Kyle Shanahan

San Francisco’s offensive attack was nearly unstoppable in Week 2, and much of their success should be credited to 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who called one of his best games since arriving in the Bay Area over two seasons ago. The Niners tallied 572 net yards on offense at an 8.4 yards-per-play clip, and were forced to punt the ball just once during meaningful play, prior to the final two minutes of the game.

Shanahan — the 49ers’ de facto offensive coordinator — was always one step ahead of the Bengals’ defense, which was constantly confused by the Niners’ flurry of misdirection plays. With Cincinnati’s defenders forced to play both passively and reactionary, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took advantage by throwing for 297 passing yards and three scores. Garoppolo executed on the field, but he had Shanahan’s superb game plan to thank for his FexEx Air Passer of the Week nomination, as well as his 131.2 passer rating and his 11.9 yards-per-pass-attempt — both of which were tops in the NFL in Week 2.

 

49ers RB Matt Breida

Prior to the beginning of the regular season, many analysts wrote 49ers running back Matt Breida off as either a potential change-of-pace option in San Francisco’s backfield or a player who would simply ride the bench in 2019. But just two games into the season, Breida has officially put that talk to rest by claiming his well-deserved spot at the top of the 49ers’ running back depth chart, even after fellow RB Tevin Coleman eventually returns from injury.

Breida was electric on Sunday as he tallied 121 rushing yards on only 12 carries, and added 11 yards through the air on one reception. The former undrafted free agent may never be a 25-carry feature back, but it’s hard to ignore a runner who averages over 10 yards-per-touch. Breida’s outstanding Week 2 performance was  highlighted by a 34-yard gain on a third-and-short run, where he looked a lot more like Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders than a bench player who should be relegated to the sidelines:

 

49ers Offensive Line

Although Breida has the speed and agility necessary to break off long runs after making defenders miss, he surely didn’t mind running through some of the gaping holes the 49ers’ offensive line provided on Sunday. Breida wasn’t the only beneficiary of San Francisco’s big men up front, as the 49ers’ trio of running backs graded out as the NFL’s top unit of the week by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Recent practice-squad RB Jeff Wilson found the end zone for a pair of scores in the contest, and dual-threat running back Raheem Mostert followed his blockers on long runs and screen passes en route to a spot on PFF’s “NFL Team of the Week” for Week 2:

It was a near-perfect day for the Niners’ offensive line, as they also kept Garoppolo’s jersey clean for the vast majority of the game. But a dark cloud fell over the group in the third quarter of the team’s Week 2 victory, when left tackle Joe Staley sustained a fractured left fibula which will keep the 49ers’ top lineman out of action for approximately six to eight weeks.

 

49ers LB Kwon Alexander

Last week, linebacker Kwon Alexander received a game ball from Shanahan in the 49ers’ locker room after the team’s 31-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite his early exit from his Niners debut. Alexander was ejected from the contest when his helmet made contact with the helmet of former teammate Jameis Winston, when the quarterback awkwardly went to the ground at the end of a third-down scramble. In the limited time prior to his questionable ejection, Alexander looked like the player Shanahan and general manager John Lynch hoped to sign, as the 25-year-old linebacker flew around the field making plays and hyping up his teammates.

Last Sunday, Alexander earned his 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room and his passion for the game. This Sunday, Alexander earned Locked On 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room, his passion for the game and his production on the field. Alexander not only brought the same level of intensity to Cincinnati, but the linebacker was also one of the best — and most productive — players on the field in Week 2. With a key interception, three defended passes and six tackles, Alexander earned PFF “NFL Team of the Week” honors, and our final game ball of the week:

 

Listen to Locked On 49ers host Brian Peacock’s review of the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 2 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals — including game notes and key takeaways from the Niners’ second matchup of the 2019 NFL regular season — on yesterday’s Rapid React podcast:

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