The San Francisco 49ers are 0-5, have scored touchdowns in only two games, and Brian Hoyer is rated as one of the worst quarterbacks in the league (75.8 QB Rating 34th NFL). For now, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan is sticking by his guy. Niner’s Live lays the blueprint for what the team will need to do to make the eventual move to C.J. Beathard a successful one.
“I don’t look at it as Brian-vs.-C.J. right now,” Shanahan said when asked about making the switch to C.J. Beathard. “I look at it as, ‘What’s best for our team right now?’ If I did feel that was the best thing for our team at this time, I wouldn’t hesitate at all. That would be an easy decision for me.” Adding, “I don’t think it is the best thing right now. That’s something I haven’t started to consider.”
That comment was made after the team dropped to 0-4. With another loss added onto that total, Shanahan needs to start making that consideration. Now is the Moment of Truth to find out what you have in Beathard.
At some point during these next few games, Beathard is going to play. When he does get his shot to show what he can do, what is going to be the best game plan for success? Based on what we saw from his college playing days and the pre-season we get an idea.
Running the ball, short passing game concepts when passing on early downs, and moving the pocket on passing downs, have been the recipe teams have routinely used when breaking in a rookie signal caller, and was the way Beathard was used during his Iowa days. Due to a lack of effectiveness on the offense, starting with the quarterback position, these are the same concepts Shanahan has been forced to use so far. Hoyer has just not played up to NFL level standards, and the offense is stuck in first gear.
Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida and Kyle Juszczyk provide a strong enough backfield to support a rookie making his first start. Aside from the game against the Los Angeles Rams, Carlos Hyde had averaged at least 4.25 yards per carries. Coming into the Colts game, the team had averaged 104.5 yards per game, at 4.4 yards per attempt. With that average per play, opening drives with the running game should allow for Beathard to see short yardage on third downs when they appear.
Currently, Hoyer is converting only 30% of his third down attempts, ranking 31st in the entire league. The Seattle Seahawks lead the NFC West in third-down percentage at 42% (10th in the league), and the Philadelphia Eagles leading the league converting 53% of their third down percentage is in direct relation to the team only averaging 5.7 plays per drive (22nd in NFL), and only 25.3 yards per drive (26 in NFL).
On the season, the team is averaging 3.9 yards per carry when running the ball on first down. Follow that up with another 5.5 yards when running on second down. That leaves third and short, which will allow Shanahan to put Beathard in position to use the play-action passing game that this offense is centered around.
On third and fourth downs, short yardage this season the team has run for 4 first downs and one touchdown showing the punch to gain the physical yardage.
By utilizing C. J on a bootleg action to the edge and keeping defenses from pinning their ears back and attacking a set pocket. Or use the short, three-step, passing game that builds confidence in a young passer.
Short Passing Game
Getting the ball out quickly for easy completions has proven the quickest way to get a quarterback comfortable and in rhythm. Using this scheme on early downs keeps a defense from getting hits on a quarterback while disrupting the rhythm of the pass rush of the defensive line.
After a strong pre-season pass blocking, the 49ers offensive line has surrendered 15 sacks through five games, which ties them for 21st in the league. More than a few of those sacks can be attributed to Hoyer holding the ball too long in the pocket. A quicker read progression would allow Beathard to keep getting the ball out his hands before the rush gets to him.
During Beathard’s senior season he earned a 124.78 passer rating while passing on first down. On first down passes thrown from inside his own 20-yard line, Beathard’s rating went up to 144.14. Passes that are usually thrown with a three-step concept, to help the quarterback prevent sacks and safeties. Completing a few of these passes to build confidence increases the success rate when running bootleg passes that can be used to threaten a defense deep and produce the chunk plays needed to win in the NFL.
Moving the Pocket
Former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL Safety Matt Bowen said of Beathard, “I think he does have a strong enough arm. He’s very accurate with the football. I don’t know what C.J. runs in the 40. I could care less. When he has to run, he makes plays with his legs.”
During the pre-season, Beathard gave a small glimpse of what that would look like. Completing bootleg passes for touchdowns, one to college teammate tight end George Kittle for 29 yards, and another to Tyler McCloskey for a short touchdown inside the five-yard line. On each of those plays, well executed run fakes allowed Beathard to boot with no defender bearing down causing a rushed throw.
Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke
Beathard chose Iowa due to the system they had in place. Kyle Shanahan chose Beathard because of his execution of the system he ran in college, and the similarities between that system and his.
The strength being displayed by the running game, the effectiveness of the pass protection, a system of play calling stuck in first gear, and a security blanket in college teammate tight end George Kittle, Beathard has the pieces around him to come under center and excel. What is going to be important, is that the team continues to play hard and not look at Beathard as a symbol of a season lost, instead of the beginning of the future.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Edward Erving Staff Writer @NinersLive.net and Co-Author, Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims