By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
For the first time since Week 11 of the 2017 season, the San Francisco 49ers will face life without Jimmy Garoppolo.
C.J. Beathard will step into as starting quarterback, but San Francisco may also be without running back Matt Breida, who is tied as the NFL’s second-leading rusher three weeks into the season.
Here’s what to watch as the 49ers travel to Carson, California to take on the Los Angeles Chargers.
No Breida, big problem
Breida has 274 yards through the first three games, tied with Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for the second-most rushing yards in the league. They trail only Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams, who has 338 yards after playing his fourth game on Thursday night. Breida, in his second year, is averaging 8.6 yards per carry and 91.3 yards per game.
The bad news here, however, is that Breida is listed as questionable against the Chargers after suffering a hyperextended knee last Sunday in Kansas City.
“I want to play,” Breida said. “We have a long season. I know I have to be smart, too. If I’m not going to cut off it, not going to be able to run, why go out there and get myself hurt and hurt the team at the same time?”
With Beathard making his first start of the season at quarterback, San Francisco will need the run game that much more in order to take pressure off the passer.
Breida was limited in practice on Wednesday and Friday while having a full go at things on Thursday, leading to some speculation as to whether or not he will be active on Sunday.
In the event that Breida does not play, the bulk of the workload will then be placed on 49ers running backs Alfred Morris and Raheem Mostert.
Morris is coming off a 67-yard performance against the Chiefs, while Mostert had only one carry for no gain.
49ers to get first look at life without Jimmy Garoppolo
While Beathard is clearly a downgrade from the $137-million Garoppolo, the 49ers don’t believe their season is over just yet.
“I think our guys are pros. They know how to handle this,” said head coach Kyle ;Shanahan. “We’ve got 13 games left in the season. There’s a long way to go. There’s not time to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves.”
As Shanahan takes the “next man up” approach to the less-than-ideal situation in his second season at the helm, Beathard also has the same confidence heading into his first start since Week 11 of 2017.
In seven appearances last year, including five starts, Beathard threw for over 1,430 yards and four touchdowns as well as one rushing score.
“I think everybody in the building is excited,” Beathard said. “We’re ready to get rolling and win some games moving forward.”
Missed tackles are going to need to stop
Through three weeks of play, the 49ers lead the NFL with 43 missed tackles, including 17 against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.
“It’s not very good, obviously,” said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
According to Saleh, the problem stems from defenders using improper tackling techniques, including lunging at feet and arm-tackling, resulting in ball carriers being able to escape before being brought to the ground.
“That’s not what we teach, obviously,” Saleh said. “But, somewhere along the line there’s a disconnect.”
Of the 17 missed tackles against Kansas City, six were credited to linebacker Reuben Foster.
In Foster’s case, missing two games by way of suspension could be a reason for the sloppy play, but Saleh quickly dispelled that notion.
“He’ll be much better this week,” Saleh said. “There’s no excuses.”
San Francisco will need to shore up their tackling against the Chargers as three of Los Angeles’ wideouts (Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams) all stand over 6-foot-2, and weigh over 205 pounds making them difficult to bring down.
In addition, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon ranks sixth in the NFL with 155 yards after contact.
49ers secondary will be depleted
According to the 49ers, starting cornerback Richard Sherman will be inactive against the Chargers after being diagnosed with a calf strain earlier this week. In addition to being without Sherman, San Francisco has listed strong safety Jaquiski Tartt as “doubtful,” after the Samford University product missed Week 3 with an injured shoulder.
“You’re dealing with a man like Richard Sherman who’s tested, who’s tried, who’s got all of the experience in the world,” said Saleh. “Obviously you try to take care of him to get him through the entire 16-game season so he can be healthy and ready to roll on Sundays.”
After Sherman’s early departure, the 49ers sent out second-year corner, Ahkello Witherspoon, who San Francisco benched to begin the game. Logically, San Francisco will start Witherspoon against Los Angeles along with Jimmie Ward, who started over Witherspoon in Kansas City.
In place of Tartt, San Francisco plans to start Antone Exum, who registered nine tackles, one sack and a tackle for loss against the Chiefs.
“Exum is here for a reason,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I thought he got a lot better as the game (against the Chiefs) went on.”
Person good to go at right guard
Mike Person has impressed the 49ers coaching staff in the first three weeks of the 2018 season.
After suffering a strained food in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, Person surprised Shanahan and company by getting himself healthy enough to make the start versus the Detroit Lions only a week later.
Still battling that injury, however, Person is cleared to play in Los Angeles.
“It depends on what you consider normal,” said Shanahan when asked if Person is back to normal shape. “But he’s good to go.”
Through the first three weeks of the season, the 49ers have averaged 14 yards per run to the right side of the offensive line with Person at right guard.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Person has an above average rating as the No. 20 guard in the league with his strong pass and run blocking abilities.
Aside from Person, the 49ers have little-to-no options for starters at right guards as former first-round pick Joshua Garnett has been ruled out with a dislocated toe.
With that being said, having Person as healthy as can be is essential to keeping their season alive.