Midway through quarter number two of 49ers-Washington, the quarterback switch some were begging for finally happened. Brian Hoyer was sat down in favor of third round rookie CJ Beathard.
I know I'm not the first to point out that Hoyer cannot shoulder the entire blame for our lack of wins. His current stat line reads a completion percent of 58 percent, with 1,245 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions. His passer rating this season is 74.1, 30th out of 32 eligible QBs. He managed these pedestrian numbers while playing with a receiving corps that leads the league in drops with 15. This team is also averaging 10.5 penalties a game, the most in the league as well. Those two critical factors lean more towards talent, and coaching.
Hoyer reminds me of Blaine Gabbert. Hoyer is a lot more consistent and definitely has a better deep ball, but both players played the game relatively safe. As soon as Gabbert's back foot hit in his drop, the ball was out (usually to a check down) and the same hold's true for Hoyer. Hoyer is a lot more likely to stretch the field but for the most part he's going to take the safe throw. Hoyer also has this thing where he pats the ball twice just before he throws it. This tell tale motion even caused him to fumble earlier in the season. If I picked up on it just from watching a few games, I'm sure some of the NFL's well paid coordinators noticed it as well.
With that being said, for a young team trying to find it's footing, Hoyer's safe and mildly consistent QB play is more of a positive than a negative. I compare Beathard’s entry into the game very similar to when Colin Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith. Here was Alex Smith, The original captain check down, supplanted by a somewhat unknown big arm rookie. Obviously Kap's skill set differs greatly from Beathard’s, however both have a little gunslinger in them. Kap would stare down his target and still make the throw into traffic because he knew his cannon could zip by most defenders. Kap would hold the ball FOREVER waiting for the deep in, or out to develop.
Beathard has similar moxy. In watching the film, he does a much better job of not taking the safe bet. He also shows some advanced QB prowess. He shows the ability to look off a deep safety, and sometimes wait until the last possible minute to snap his head around to deliver the ball. On the other hand, similar to Kap, Beathard’s footwork is inconsistent at times, he throws a lot off his back foot and his accuracy goes haywire.
Today, we look at third downs from last week. Currently the 49ers rank 15th with a 30 percent success rate on third downs. The league average sits just under 40 percent. The team was able to convert 35 percent of their 3rd downs this past Sunday. Lets get into the film.
Our first clip highlights some of what I mentioned above. 3rd and 10 in the 2nd quarter 5:28 on the clock. I believe this might be Beathard’s first 3rd down attempt and its a flat out drop by George Kittle. Washington brings a blitz from the left side of the offense. He doesn't panic or dash in the opposite direction, he merely shifts his drop half a step to the right, stands in a throws a strike to the open man. Kittle, motions into the slot and is one on one with a linebacker which for the most part is always going to be a mismatch. Kittle leads the team in drops however, and has a bad case of the "McDonalds."
Still in the 2nd quarter with 48 seconds left on the clock, Beathard has led the team down the field in an efficient two minute drill and aims to punch the ball in before the half. On 3rd down and 10, Pierre Garçon comes across the field from the bottom (right) to the top (left). In looking at the All 22 angle not much developed in the end zone. Two players open Carlos Hyde in the flat at the top of the screen, or Garçon in the middle. Beathard goes with Garçon who tries to run over a DB on the way to pay dirt but he's brought down shortly after contact. We probably would've kicked a field goal at this point, however a penalty on Washington extends the drive.
Our next clip, still at the end of the 2nd quarter, now with only 29 seconds left. Washington dials up another blitz. Once again Beathard does a good job of standing in, he doesn't look down at the blitz or run off to the right. He makes a solid throw to Kittle. Kittle lines up next to tackle Trent Brown near the bottom (right) hash. Kittle fails to break the tackle coming across the formation to get into the end zone. If I really want to "Monday Morning Quarterback" this play, I would say if Beathard puts some air under this ball and throws it more towards the back corner of the end zone it could've led to a score. The linebacker ran shallow across the field with Kittle, and if the ball would've veered Kittle on a slight diagonal I doubt the linebacker would be able to adjust and it would've sailed over his head. Easy for me to type lol.
At the half we've punched the ball in on 4th down. Our next clip comes from early in the 3rd quarter at the 13 minute mark. On 3rd and 8 we have a conversion to Carlos Hyde. I've seen variations of this play all season, and Hyde actually scored on a very similar play versus Minnesota in the preseason. Washington blitzes once again. This blitz is more of a zone blitz scheme where the two middle linebackers blitz and the outside defensive end drops into coverage. Ryan Kerrigan number 91, anticipates Hyde sprinting to the flat and immediately heads towards the sideline. Hyde however turns his route up the field into the void left by Marquise Goodwin. His sprint across the field, from top to bottom (right to left) attracts the attention of several (3) Washington DBs. Once again, if I pull out my MMQB chair, Trent Taylor is wide open at the top of the field on an out route. However a conversion is a conversion. Good play call, good execution.
Our next clip is a 3rd and 13 play from the 3rd quarter, 9:51 on the clock. This one's on Beathard, and here's where his footwork fails him. I also don't really like the play call. 13 yards to go and Kyle Shanahan plays for the field goal, I'm assuming. Only Garçon's route at the top of screen seems to aim for the conversion. Every other route looks to simply set up a shorter field goal. Washington brings four, no blitz this time with a single high safety look. In the all 22 you can see Taylor, in the slot, slips on his outward break, otherwise I think he has the DB beat even more. I put the blame on Beathard for the poor throw. He stands in the pocket, but at the very end he drifts right and throws the ball while moving backwards. The pass is simply not far enough outside. This is easy to spot from the end zone angle. A better defensive back picks this one and possibly takes it to the house. I would've like to see Beathard sprint out to his right aggressively, and throw a strike on the run, a solid outside throw and this is an easy pitch and catch. Instead the ball is lofted too far inside and is almost picked off.
Our next clip from the 3rd quarter puts us at 3rd down and 4 to go. Less than 5 yards to go are optimal 3rd down scenarios. This play fails for 2 reasons, one Beathard hesitates at the end of his drop which gives the stunting defensive lineman time to loop around for the sack. He has Kittle on an out, and while there is tight coverage a decent throw to the far outside would allow for a completion. He also has Garçon running a slant as well. I did notice from the end zone angle he's not even looking to that side of the field however until the defensive linemen is basically on top of him. Second failure reason I see is the blocking scheme. Again, I'm in my MMQB chair here, but I don't see why we have two people blocking one guy on the outside (Joe Staley and Laken Tomlinson), and then on the other side we have three-on-three. Daniel Kilgore, and Brandon Fusco both struggle on this play. Kilgore's man pushes him back into the QBs lap, as does Fusco's man. The defensive lineman then loops around, and Kilgore's so busy trying not to get beat from the snap he never recovers to catch the stunting lineman. After the play Fusco turns to Kilgore and gives the universal symbol for "what gives bro?"
The next few clips come to us from the 4th quarter. This one is a 3rd and 5. Although it's an incompletion this play outlines some of the advanced QB tendencies Beathard is capable of. At the start of the play Kittle goes in motion, we can see the DB follow him to his slot position. The remaining DBs are lined up tight. The defensive formation reads man coverage. The safety is over the top in the deep middle. The route combo includes Go routes on the outside by Aldrick Robinson and Garçon. Kittle shoots up the seam. I feel like Taylor in the slot (bottom of the screen) could've converted the first, he runs a shake route and quickly breaks to the outside and is pretty open, but Beathard the gunslinger wants it all. You can see this technique better from the end zone angle. Beathard knows he has Robinson in one on one coverage at the top of the screen, the only person that could stop him is the safety. He holds the safety by totally ignoring Robinson until the very last minute. The throw however is three yards out of bounds, the technique was effective as it put the safety out of position. For what it's worth, watch Kilgore and Fusco try to block one guy, cue the Benny Hill music.
Next clip is a 3rd and 13. Beathard shows once again his ability to bait the defense. It's amazing to me how many 3rd and shorts we missed, but somehow we convert a 3rd and 13. On this play all of the routes are deep, except for Taylor's. We have two deep in routes on the outside, Kittle runs down the seam. Taylor runs 10 yards and stops. Washington is in zone coverage. Looks like Cover 2 Robber, or possibly Cover 3. It looks like initially the safety at the top of field starts to approach Taylor's short route, but he focuses on Kittle down the seam. Both safeties lean in that direction. This leaves Taylor open, Beathard quickly switches to Taylor, and drops the quick pass. Taylor turns up the field and picks up three more yards for the 1st down. Play call was so-so, but the execution was great.
36 seconds left in the 4th quarter Beathard faces a 3rd and 4. Here's an instance of him showing some poor footwork. It throws off the timing and accuracy of the play. Garçon bails him out by making a stellar sideline catch off the rebound. I'd be more surprised but Garçon has turned these catches into a routine occurrence. Washington lines up in tight man coverage. They run a zone blitz scheme, where an outside backer blitzes, and the nose tackle actually drops into coverage. When Beathard gets the snap he hops backward once and sets his feet, if he throws the out at this point Garçon is just breaking on the out, and it should be an easy conversion. Beathard, not sure if he's a little leery of Fusco and Kilgore's ability to handle a blitz, takes another little hop to the left, and then quickly attempts to throw an out route off his back foot, while leaning left. The result is a throw that's inaccurate and too far inside. That's the second time he puts an out route too far inside and risks a pick. The DB is able to recover and tip the ball. Garçon manages to not only catch the rebound, but also get a leg down inbounds. Hey, a conversion is a conversion.
This next clip shows an opportunity for Beathard to settle down and take what the defense is giving him. It's 3rd and 20, there's only 14 seconds left in the game, but all we need is a field goal. It's obvious were in four down territory. Beathard aims for the big play to Garçon on the deep corner route, but it's well covered. If it was an accurate throw it probably would've been a pick. What I do see from the All 22 is a chance for Beathard to get the ball to Hyde out of the backfield. The DB covering him gets somewhat picked by Garçon running deep, and there's about 10 yards between Hyde and anyone else. If he gets him the ball in stride, it’s possible Hyde gets at least to the Washington 40 for a more manageable 4th and 10, or possibly more. It's also possible Hyde breaks the tackle and gets us even closer for a game winning field goal. Neither happens as the ball sails well out of bounds. Another teachable moment for the rook.
Beathard ended the game with one touchdown, and one pick (came on the last play). He threw for 245 yards and a passer rating of 72.1. Pedestrian at best, however sometimes the stats don't paint the full picture.
I saw a QB who wasn't scared. Kilgore is quoted in one of the other pieces on this site as saying, "he never hesitates." I think that's one thing I saw different initially between Hoyer and Beathard. Hoyer plays smart, careful but sometimes timid. One of the clips above does show hesitation, but for the most part in watching the entire game he delivered the ball on time and at intermediate levels. Hoyer's average per pass attempt sits at 6.07 yards. After one game Beathard’s average sits at 6.81. Not a huge difference, but football is sometimes referred to as the game of inches.
I'm anxious to see how he does this Sunday against Dallas. Their defense currently allows 26 points a game and 339 yards to opposing passers. They're coming off a bye, and could very easily be looking ahead to the divisional showdown with Washington the following week. Go Niners!