After making a handful of starts last season, 49ers’ fans rejoiced when they didn’t have to watch rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard any longer, and QB Jimmy Garoppolo took over. In the seven games that Beathard played, he completed 55 percent of his passes, averaging a shade over 200 passing yards per game, including four touchdowns and six interceptions.
Most fans attributed Beathard’s poor play to a porous offensive line, injured skill players and the usual rookie season struggle. However, his preseason play wasn’t as impressive as people expected either.
Let’s break down Beathard’s film from the preseason, as well his cameo appearance in the game against the Chiefs’ to see if fans can expect a different Beathard this season.
Beathard’s biggest strength has been his ability to stand in the pocket in the face of a pass rush and take a hit after releasing the throw. If the 49ers’ offensive line gives Beathard some time, he’ll find the open receiver and make the throw.
Against the Cowboys in the preseason opener, Beathard finished the game 10-of-18, 181 yards and an interception. Here’s what the ex-Iowa quarterback is capable of when the offensive line gives Beathard some time to breathe. The 49ers’ signal caller surveys his reads and finds wideout Kendrick Bourne for a big gain.
Here’s what Beathard can’t do when opposing defensive lines are bringing a strong pass rush. On this play, pressure comes from Beathard’s left and he spins out and makes a throw across his body that ends up nowhere near the receiver. Rather than trying to make the most out of the bad situation, Beathard needs to learn to throw the ball away and play for the next down.
Here is Beathard’s best throw of the night against Dallas, problem is that he doesn’t lead wideout Dante Pettis far enough. Pettis has to slow down to catch the ball, preventing him from finishing the play in the end zone. Beathard has to throw that ball a little further to allow Pettis to catch it on the run.
Now in the red zone, accuracy becomes extremely important. The field shrinks vertically and there will be more defenders packed in a tighter area. Beathard can’t afford to miss throws or have balls tipped, because more often than not, they will get intercepted. On this route, Pettis finds himself open between two defenders, but Beathard’s low and inaccurate throw leads to an incompletion — costing the 49ers four points.
Here’s an example from earlier in the Dallas game of the result of a tipped Beathard pass. In the red zone, especially with an un-blocked rusher, the 49ers’ quarterback has to loft this pass over the defender, rather than throwing right into his arms. It allows the ball to be tipped and eventually intercepted. There were numerous instances of Beathard’s passes getting tipped at the line, something he’ll have to fix soon.
Against the Texans, here’s one of the Beathard’s better throws. In the face of pressure, Beathard is able to make a quick drop and fire off a throw to Pettis in stride. The key to making this pass successful is hitting the receiver as he’s running so that he doesn’t have to slow down to catch the ball. Beathard does well here on his delivery to his Pettis.
Again, in the face of pressure, Beathard rarely runs from the pocket. He will stand in and make the throw — even if it’s not entirely accurate. On this throw, Beathard hits wideout Aldrick Robinson (now a Vikings’ receiver) as he was about to get hit.
Against the Colts, Beathard was given good protection from his offensive line, leading him to make the solid throw to 49ers’ wideout Kendrick Bourne. This is what’s going to allow the 49ers to be successful for the next 13 weeks — give Beathard solid protection and allow him to make short, simple throws. Getting the ball out of his hands and into a wide receiver’s hands should be head coach Kyle Shanahan’s number one priority.
Here’s another prime example of Beathard hitting one of his skill players in stride and allowing wideout Richie James Jr. to create yards after the catch. Once again (I know I’ve been redundant), but if the 49ers can give Beathard some protection, more often than not, he’ll make the right throw to the open receiver.
After being thrown into the fire after Garoppolo went down, Beathard showed veteran poise as he threw a beautiful ball on 4th and goal. Unfortunately, it was called back for an offensive pass interference call that seemed ticky-tack.
The difference in having good Beathard vs. bad Beathard is going to come down to the performance of all the players around him on offense. If running backs Matt Breida and Alfred Morris are able to ease the load off of Beathard, that’ll make him more comfortable. If the 49ers’ offensive line can give their quarterback some extra protection, he’s more likely to make the right play. If the wide receivers can separate from defensive backs easily and not drop balls, that’ll help Beathard settle in.
It’s going to be far different from Beathard’s starts last season, because experience is the best teacher in life. We’re going to find out of Beathard is going to use the lessons he learned from his starts last year and apply that for the rest of this season. My guess is that the 49ers’ backup is going to look better than he did in the preseason, but the 49ers are still going to struggle to win games. These next 13 weeks will be used to figure out if Beathard can be a high-end future backup or if he’ll need to be released to bring someone else in behind Garoppolo.