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San Francisco 49ers

Four ways Niners can help Beathard succeed in first start of season

Jon Chik

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49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard

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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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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