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49ers wide receivers are officially missing in action

We look at what happened to the 49ers receving corps versus the Rams

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers lost to the Los Angeles Rams by a final score of 39-10 in Week 8, and it was in fact the end result of a poor showing by san Francisco. However as with most NFL games there’s the story inside the score that gives a different complexion to the final score. Considering the Rams scored 24 points off Niner turnovers, a positive thinker such as myself sees the score as 15-10. Take nothing away from the Rams, they’re a great team. The Rams had a solid defensive plan and executed it. Our offense struggled to execute their plan and that was the turning point in the game.

The glaring stat of the night was four total catches by the 49ers wide receivers for 35 yards. It almost seems mind boggling that number can be true for a team led by an offensive mind such as Kyle Shanahan. However, in reviewing the tape, there were several factors that led to such an underwhelming performance.

Reason number one being number 99. Aaron Donald went off. Literally every passing play that I watched, if he was in the game, he was in C.J. Beathard’s hip pocket by the time he reached the top of his drop. He terrorized the offense the entire game. This prevented Beathard from getting to those outside progressions and deep routes that the team loves to run off of play action. By the time Beathard turned around after the run fake, Donald was in his face.

Reason number two being the Rams defensive scheme. Given Donald’s interior dominance they rarely blitz and often rushed four and put seven in coverage. This created tight window throws on the outside, which just isn’t Beathard’s thing. They also bracketed Marquise Goodwin with two defenders. The Rams played coverage and simply dared the 49ers to run, and hit over the middle passes, which we did. George Kittle had a solid game with five catches 98 yards and a touchdown.

Reason number three being C.J. Beathard. He’s still a young QB who doesn’t yet trust his eyes. One thing I love about Jimmy Garoppolo is his ability to throw with anticipation. That’s big boy football. Letting the ball go, throwing into an area where a receiver isn’t, is how the best QBs in the league make a living. Beathard hasn’t gotten there yet. While I think he has a good arm, and can make some big league throws, he still struggles with hitting his back foot and letting it rip consistently. Let’s get into the film.

Let’s start with the anticipation point to which I was referring. These next two clips are some examples of what I saw in the game. Now I’m not saying by any means that these throws are slam dunks. These are throws however that I’ve seen Jimmy and other top tier quarterbacks make. Our first clip shows Trent Taylor running a post deep over the middle. He’s not initially open, but the safety plays the route too shallow and susceptible to a pass over his head. Beathard doesn’t trust it, and while he runs for a nice gain, this is where I’d like to see him evolve.

Another anticipation clip. Kendrick Bourne has a step on the route and again with an accurate touch pass, he can run into an open area. The throw takes anticipation however, because when Beathard reaches the top of his drop, he’s not necessarily open but given the position of the defenders and the speed at which Bourne is running, there’s an opening. Instead Beathard steps up, which isn’t a bad move, but then he doesn’t set his feet and throws an inaccurate pass over the middle which gets picked off.

From what I saw, I believe Kyle adjusted to the Rams coverage tactics by using the wide receivers as decoys, he saw that they were getting focused on. Also the Rams linebacker corps could be considered the weak link in what is ultimately a stout defense. So, Shanahan used his receivers the clear out space and create open passes for his tight ends and running backs. In our first clip, you can see Goodwin attract three defenders, even one from the far opposite side of the field. This leaves Kittle in a wide open area for a big gain.

Garçon runs a similar clear out route. Notice how he specifically runs right at the deep safety to keep him occupied, while Kittle runs free off the play action pass. It’s an effective concept and moving the pocket gave Beathard time to get off an accurate pass.

Here’s another play where Garçon creates a decoy for Kittle to get open, but Beathard just misses the throw because of the pressure in his face. Kittle runs the wheel route and beats the linebacker. The deep safety bites on the short route by Garçon and almost gives up the big play. Beathard can’t properly step into the throw an actually steps on the foot of his offensive lineman as he releases the ball.

Here’s another good play, where Garçon runs deep middle, and Goodwin runs a drag across the formation to clear out the defense for a screen pass Mostert runs for a good gain. Where was this play later on in the match up however?

There were a few plays that the 49ers simply didn’t connect. Just like the tight end wheel route above that was open, but missed. Here’s an example. Beathard does a good job, of looking off the deep safety, but just misses Goodwin on the deep route. They normally have a great rapport on deep balls but it looks like Goodwin stumbled getting around the defender which caused him to be out of position for the throw and catch. Beathard threw it outside, Goodwin went inside.

The main reason the 49ers couldn’t get anything going was this guy. Aaron Donald was simply unblockable. He often took on two offensive lineman and beat them both. The 49ers had no answer. He prevented any consistent deep routes, and often stopped the running game short. Not to mention, he himself caused a fumble and recovered it when Breida coughed it up early in the game. Anytime you end a play and two of your lineman are on the ground, and a third is hunched over in disappointment. It’s a bad play, and it was a bad day for that unit.

In hindsight, the Rams have beat everyone they faced this season this way. However in context, we’ve turned the ball over against everyone we faced this season just the same. This week’s matchup versus the Arizona Cardinals gives the 49ers a small chance at redemption. Will the turnovers continue? I hope not. Can Kyle and Co finally put together a solid game offensively to match the defense which has quietly been improving week by week? I hope so. Go Niners!