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3 things we learned in the 49ers loss to the Chargers (and 1 thing I still think about)

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Tackling issues continue, injuries pile on, and C.J. Beathard shows improvement. Let’s see what we learned from the 49ers’ loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Raise your hand if you saw that 49ers-Chargers game going the way it did. Sure you didn’t. A pick six early can be easily overcome (as the Chargers have shown) but the 49ers showed up and balled up, while the defense didn’t wrap up. It didn’t help things when Garrett Celek not only drops a possible touchdown, but deflects it into the arms of a Chargers defender.

Regardless of how this game turned out, we learned more about this 49ers roster. Here’s three things we learned:

Matt Breida is not a bell cow

The 49ers running back had some explosive plays, but a not-so-explosive stat line. 9 carries, 39 yards, and 3 receptions for 32 yards. That is not the issue. The issue is for the second time in as many weeks, Breida went down with an injury. Last week it was his knee. This week it was his shoulder. Both should explain why Breida is not an every-down back.

Now don’t misunderstand, he belongs in the 49ers offense. In fact, he’s made himself a necessity. But he’s not a running back that can take the punishment of being a three-down workhorse a la Frank Gore. He’s had too many injuries pulling him off the field. I hope I can change my stance on this in a year as he gets further acclimated into the NFL game, but I’m looking instead to 2019. Not just 2019, but the campaign of 2019. McKinnon/Breida 2019. That ticket is going to be downright filthy. You just keep your eyes on that campaign trail, folks. Keep Alfred Morris around while you’re at it, there’s room for him on this offense. Have him come in for some misdirection.

A lot have called for Breida to get the lion’s share of the carries, myself included, but the fact of the matter is his body simply can’t hold up for something like that. He’s more than shown he belongs on the offense though.

2018 C.J. Beathard is not 2017 C.J. Beathard

There was a collective gasp when Jimmy Garoppolo went down for injury and then cringes at the thought of C.J. Beathard taking the team. For his first game back he wasn’t bad. In fact, I’d give him an ‘S’ for satisfactory. Up until the final drive of the first half, Beathard hovered around 70 percent for a completion percentage. He had some nice touchdowns, he wasn’t throwing the errant passes fans were used to, and overall held up well.

Now how he does for the 12 games the 49ers have left is yet to be decided, but Beathard showed a lot of improvement today. I said Beathard would be surprising a few people, and without winning today there’s not much to get surprised about, but remember, the 49ers were in the realm of 10-point or so underdogs. They lost by two points, and none of it can be placed on Beathard’s shoulders.

The 49ers are decimated by injuries, yet they can remain competitive

That’s good coaching. Yes, the pass-catchers had issues catching the ball today and yes, the defense tackling is atrocious (don’t worry, we’ll get to that) but the 49ers kept this within two points. Two points with a backup quarterback, a plug-and-play offensive line, and a patchwork secondary.

Now, the Chargers are dealing with their own injury issues. Losing Joey Bosa is the most notable, which may have led to more of a beating on Beathard, but they had their starting quarterback, and as bad as the 49ers defense was today, it still managed to not let the game get entirely out of hand.

I noticed on Twitter people are wondering if Kyle Shanahan should shoulder some of this and the answer is an absolute no. John Lynch asked everyone to be patient with this rebuild, and we’ve seen what bad coaching can get us. Go watch Jim Tomsula or Chip Kelly games if you need a reminder. Shanahan has been working with rookies and the bottom of the barrell and still manages to keep them in the games, games they have no business sniffing wins from. This is not a Super Bowl team, and with the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s not a playoff team either. We’ll see how the team does the next few weeks, but Shanahan does the best with what he has.

And then of course one thing I think about:

How hard is it to tackle?

We talked about this last week, and we may as well bring it up again: The 49ers tackling stinks. Philip Rivers got his to keep the Chargers in the game, but a large reason the Chargers offense managed to move the ball down the field was due to poor tackling from the 49ers’ camp. Some plays, Melvin Gordon shrugged two tacklers off. One play late in the game, three were shed resulting in a modest gain.

In fact, it got humorously bad towards the end when five 49ers all swarmed and put the most effort of the day in bringing a Chargers ball carrier down.

It’s embarrassing.

I just got done saying the 49ers are well coached to be competitive despite their injuries, but you definitely feel contradictory saying that when you see how bad the defense is at tackling. That’s a little thing, turning into a large deterrence. Perhaps Robert Saleh needs to stop passing around bracelets that say, “violence” and instead tattoo each of his players with the words, “wrap up!”