There’s no sugarcoating it: Losing Jimmy Garoppolo for the season is a crippling blow to San Francisco’s offense as well as the team’s playoff aspirations.
San Francisco’s brass thought highly enough of C.J. Beathard to draft him in the third round of last year’s draft, however, so could the Iowa product conceivably overperform and keep the ship from sinking? Here are four bold moves San Francisco could consider for Week 4’s clash with the Chargers that might put the inexperienced quarterback in position to succeed.
Go play-action deep to Marquise Goodwin on the first offensive snap
Admittedly, this is a risky proposition given how much Beathard struggled last season, and such a play would open the door for an early strip-sack or interception, which is the last thing the 49ers need one week after losing their franchise quarterback for the season.
If Kyle Shanahan indeed dials up a deep ball to Marquise Goodwin on the first play, however, the sheer element of surprise reduces the chances of a turnover and gives San Francisco a chance for a quick strike against a Chargers defense that would probably never see this coming.
If Beathard hits a streaking Goodwin in stride, it would be an enormous early confidence-booster for the second-year signal-caller as well as the offense, which has gotten off to a slow start in all three games. Even if the pass falls harmlessly incomplete, Beathard would likely be emboldened simply by knowing that his coach has faith in his ability to make plays downfield.
Los Angeles has the third-worst pass defense in football (271.7 yards allowed per game) and has permitted 16 completions of 20 yards or more, which is third-most in the league. Why not put those statistics to the test right out of the gate?
San Francisco doesn’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) rely on the deep ball all afternoon, but the Niners could easily catch the Chargers napping if Beathard chucks it long on the first play.
Get the ball out immediately to playmakers in space
It’s easier said than done, but getting the ball out quickly could make or break Beathard’s first start of the season, and since San Francisco has several skill players who are dangerous in space, doing so is imperative.
Beathard showed impressive toughness by consistently getting back up from some wicked hits last season, but the best way to keep him from absorbing such punishment is to make sure he gets the ball out of his hand and into the mitts of explosive playmakers like Goodwin, Matt Breida and Dante Pettis, all of whom can do damage after the catch.
With the downgrade from Garoppolo to Beathard, it seems San Francisco is going to have to find a way to “steal” a touchdown, and Goodwin, Breida or Pettis turning a short gain into a long score might be the Niners’ best chance of doing so. Allowing Beathard to establish a rhythm and throw some high-percentage passes via wide receiver screens, shovel passes and quick slants could be just what the doctor ordered to help the offense get off the ground in Los Angeles.
Totally unleash Matt Breida
Not only did Breida enter Week 4 in a tie with Ezekiel Elliott as the NFL’s leading rusher with 274 yards, he’s averaging 8.6 yards per carry. Let that sink in for a moment.
While it’s true that he and Alfred Morris may face more of an uphill battle since teams are likely to stack the box due to a lack of respect for a Beathard-led aerial attack, this could be the week to pepper Breida with as many carries as the Georgia Southern product can handle.
Breida’s knee injury complicates matters, but he was upgraded to “full” practice participant on Thursday, and San Francisco can potentially use the uncertainty surrounding the running back to its advantage – the Chargers don’t know how much or how little the ailment is bothering Breida, and if the 23-year-old is at or near 100 percent, then the Niners could choose to sink or swim with a game plan that involves Breida receiving at least 20-25 carries.
Again, Breida shouldn’t be burdened with such an enormous workload if his injury is still a problem, but if he’s feeling up to it, he’s clearly earned a bigger workload (he hasn’t had more than 14 touches in a game this season, and he hasn’t out-touched Morris in any of the previous three games, despite out-playing him).
Even if the strategy didn’t work, could anyone blame the Niners for rolling with a guy who has clearly been the best player on their offense? It’s time to find out what this kid can do as a bona fide feature back, and an explosive ground game would obviously take some pressure off Beathard while opening the door for him to hurt the Chargers with some play-action passes.
Blitz like crazy against Philip Rivers
No, Beathard won’t be on the field if San Francisco chooses to bring the house against Philip Rivers, but he would stand to benefit if the Niners put some heat on the 36-year-old.
The Niner defense has struggled to produce a pass rush this season, and while the previous three quarterbacks San Francisco has faced (Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Patrick Mahomes) all have moderate to impressive mobility, Los Angeles’ long-time gunslinger is a traditional pocket passer who won’t be able to evade six or seven hard-charging defenders.
Other than DeForest Buckner, no one on San Francisco’s defense has consistently gotten to the quarterback, so adopting the adage of “bring one more than they can block” might be the way to go in Week 4. San Francisco’s pass defense has been hemorrhaging yards anyway, so it could make sense to roll with a more aggressive gameplan in the hopes of short-circuiting a few drives via turnovers.
If the defense takes a few chances and indeed forces Los Angeles to cough up the ball at least twice, Beathard could find himself in excellent field position and poised to capitalize.
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