San Francisco 49ers Analysis: Five observations from “inexcusable” four-turnover loss to Rams

By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner

It’s time to see what else is in the bag at the quarterback position.

It’s been three weeks since C.J. Beathard took over for Jimmy Garoppolo, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL in Kansas City. The results have not been good.

With an 0-3 record after Sunday’s 39-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Beathard has thrown only six touchdowns while committing 11 turnovers (seven interceptions and four fumbles), including a pair of picks and a fumble against the undefeated Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. By doing so, Beathard has largely contributed the team’s -15 turnover differential — the worst in the NFL this season.

“It’s inexcusable,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan after the loss. “It’s impossible to win in this league when you turn the ball over like we are… He’s got to do better, I’ve got to do better and we’ve got to do better around him.”

While not every turnover is directly attributable to Beathard, the results with Beathard at quarterback have been far from ideal. With this in mind, it may be time for the 49ers to see what else they have left in the bag at the quarterback position.

Currently, San Francisco has only one backup quarterback on their roster: Nick Mullens, who is in his second year as a pro after going undrafted out of Southern Miss in 2017. The other option? Four-year veteran Tom Savage, who was waived ahead of Week 7 to make room for an extra defensive back on the active roster.

Mullens played in all four preseason games for the San Francisco earlier in the year, completing 72 percent of his passes for 396 yards. While he does not have any regular season experience, testing out the 23-year-old’s capabilities against legitimate NFL talent doesn’t have much downside.

Considering that playing Beathard has resulted in a total of zero wins, things can’t get much worse. On the other hand, if Mullens happens to look good, the 49ers may have an asset to trade in the future as well as a possible third backup option once Garoppolo returns in 2019.

As for Savage, he has starting experience in the NFL. In seven starts with Houston, he completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,417 yards and five touchdowns.

In both cases, the one thing that the 49ers would have to keep a close eye on is the fact that amid this essentially lost season, maintaining draft position should be a high priority. At 1-6, San Francisco is tied with the Arizona Cardinals for the No. 1 overall pick in 2019.

Despite having these options, the 49ers are adamant about staying the course of starting Beathard moving forward and into a Week 8 rematch at Arizona.

“C.J [Beathard] is the best quarterback in our building,” Shanahan said.

Breida needs rest

For the third consecutive week, 49ers running back Matt Breida limped to the San Francisco sideline after receiving medical attention on the field for a nagging ankle injury.

After three weeks of also being limited at practice and convincing the 49ers coaching staff that he was indeed healthy enough to go, Shanahan says that it may be time to sit Breida for a week or two to allow the second-year back time to get right health-wise.

“That’s something we’ll have to look into hard,” he said. “Breida has done a very good job of recovering throughout the week. He was begging to come back in the game in the second half … we made the decision to keep him down.”

In addition to the injured ankle, Breida also dealt with a hyperextended left knee initially suffered in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. During that same game, the Southern Georgia product returned to the field in the second half to help attempt a late-game comeback at Arrowhead Stadium.

“I want to play every down hurt or not,” Breida said. “I’ve got to learn how to take the time needed to get healthy.”

After losing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon to a torn ACL before the season, the 49ers inserted Breida into McKinnon’s assumed starting role as both a ball carrier and pass catcher.

With 430 yards on 63 rushes, Breida has averaged an NFL-best 6.8 yards per carry. With that type of production, it’s no wonder why the 49ers coaching staff has elected to keep him on the field, injured or not.

Considering that Breida’s status has been up in the air for the last few weeks, San Francisco accounted for him not being active. The backup plan has been to increase the role of Raheem Mostert, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015.

Since playing his first game of the season in Week 5, Mostert has racked up 157 yards on 25 carries, including a seven carry, 59-yard performance on Sunday. Due to his play, Mostert has been promoted to the team’s second option at running back, ahead of seven-year veteran Alfred Morris.

“We have to have another guy to come in and fill that role,” Mostert said. “It’s one of those things where we just have to keep fighting. We have the right guys in here.”

If the 49ers do decide to let Breida get the rest that he so desperately looks to be in need of, Mostert will surely shoulder a good portion of the workload that Breida carries. If they choose to listen to Breida and let him run his body into the ground, it may only take carries and games off of the back end of his career.

The 49ers defensive front seven may be the brightest spot on this team.

For how poorly the 49ers offense played on Sunday — scoring just 10 points and turning the ball over four times — San Francisco’s front seven played a strong game.

Taking on the Rams, who entered the game with the NFL’s top-ranked offense and the league’s most productive running back in Todd Gurley, San Francisco’s defensive linemen and linebackers held up well, proving to be the team’s lone bright spot on an otherwise forgettable afternoon.

“It’s just communication and just knowing we have each other’s back no matter what,” said 49ers defensive tackle Ronald Blair III. “We made sure we prepared ourselves throughout the week and try to contain [Gurley] the best we can.”

Considering the fact that four 49ers turnovers put the Rams in short-field situations, holding Los Angeles to less than 40 points was about as good as San Francisco could have hoped.

As for Gurley, the 49ers were able to limit the All-Pro back to just 63 yards on 15 carries for the afternoon, well below his season average of 105 yards per game. Although he was able to score three touchdowns, each came after the Rams were set up in 49ers territory after a San Francisco turnover.

“He’s one of the best backs in the league,” Blair said. “We just wanted to slow him down and do the best that we could. Holding him to under 70 [yards] was pretty good, but we could have done better.”

One thing that was noticeably missing from the 49ers upfront was the fact they were unable to get to Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who earned a 127.4 quarterback rating by throwing for 202 yards and completing 75 percent of his passes.

“We’ve got to do a better job blowing them up as a defense,” said 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. “We have to do a better job to find more opportunities.”

The only sack that the 49ers were able to record came on a botched snap during Los Angeles’ first drive of the game. Other than that, little-to-no pressure was applied to Goff.

While the 49ers front seven did all they could to avoid an early blowout, the Ram’s offense and fortunate field position would eventually get the better of them.

“At the end of the day we lost,” Buckner said. “It doesn’t matter how well the defense played, we still lost.”

Wide receivers have been marginalized

The 49ers recorded 170 yards of passing offense but only a small fraction of that was actually credited to wide receivers.

In a game where tight end George Kittle would wind up as the team’s leading pass-catcher with 98 yards, San Francisco wide receivers only managed to gain 35 yards in total through 60 minutes of football — an alarming stat to say the least.

“[The Rams] didn’t play much man coverage today,” Shanahan said. “They tried to take away the big play and make us work our way up the field and obviously we struggled to do that.”

On Sunday, San Francisco wide receivers were targeted a total of 11 times. Only four of those would be completed. Of those 11 attempts, five went to 49ers speedster Marquise Goodwin.

As for the remaining six passes, three went to second-year receiver Trent Taylor, one to Pierre Garçon and one to Kendrick Bourne.

“I think it was everything today,” Beathard said regarding his lack of success getting the ball to his wideouts. “We can get better at me seeing guys, the O-line protecting, the receivers getting open, getting some separation. I think we all need to get better in that aspect.”

While calling for improvement is one thing, implementing it is entirely another. Along with the difficulty beating coverages, part of the reason why Beathard has had such a tough time getting the ball to his wide receivers has been the fact that he was sacked seven times for -49 yards on the day.

Without a pocket to sit in or time to go through progressions, getting the ball out on time and accurately is a near-impossible task.

“We just didn’t get it done and we didn’t give C.J. time,” .said 49ers left tackle Joe Staley. “He was under a lot of duress the whole game.”

Part of the problems the 49ers offensive line encountered were caused by Rams phenom, Aaron Donald, who registered eight total tackles, including four sacks, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Next week, the 49ers will take on the Cardinals, who don’t have anything close to the inside threat Donald is, and against whom they were able to pass for 349 yards in Week 5. San Francisco will have to re-establish the presence of their wide receivers. If not, their marginalization will continue, limiting their offensive versatility even further.

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