On August 15, the San Francisco 49ers released the second depth chart for this season. Any fan who hoped for a change in the epic battle between quarterbacks Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard may have looked at their computer screen with sad eyes. Just like week one of the preseason, Barkley is the second-string quarterback, and Beathard is running the third-string offense.
The stalemate in the battle to be the second suitor isn’t shocking. Both players had solid games against the Kansas City Chiefs. Barkley played most of the first half and took 34 snaps. He finished his evening with ten completed passes, 168 yards, no touchdowns and an overall 92.3 rating. Beathard took 38 snaps and was 7-for-11 passing. He had 101 yards in the air, two touchdown passes, and a 133 rating.
Barkley: The Good, The Bad, and The Concerning
Barkley led the 49ers to a field goal on his first drive. It started at the 4-yard line with a play-action pass that gained 14 yards. On the third play, Barkley took the snap at the 49ers 18-yard line, faked a handoff, and hit WR Aldrick Robinson in stride at the 33-yard line. It was a crisp throw that allowed Robinson to make a long run to the Kansas City 19-yard line.
With 3:39 left in the second quarter, Barkley started a drive at his 15-yard line. On the second play, he found rookie receiver Trent Taylor over the middle, and Taylor ran the ball to the 49ers’ 27-yard line. A series of runs and short passes brought the 49ers to the Kansas City 33-yard line with 5 seconds left in the half. It looked like Barkley directed another successful drive, but the Kansas City special teams unit blocked K Robbie Gould’s field goal.
Barkley couldn’t lead the 49ers offense to a touchdown while he was under center. At one point, the Chiefs committed a penalty on a field goal attempt that gave the 49ers a fresh set of downs at the 2-yard line. Barkley had two incomplete passes, and RB Matt Breida lost three yards on a run attempt.
The speed of the NFL continues to be an issue for Barkley, even as he enters his fourth year in the league. He has glaring breakdowns in his throwing fundamentals on pass plays that require a 5 to 7-step drop. Too often, he is not moving his feet forward to climb the pocket or taking a hitch step to improve the timing on his passes with receivers more than 12 yards down field.
At one point, he rolled left on a play-action play and had a pocket as clean as grandma’s fine china. Barkley had Taylor open in the flat, and TE Garrett Celek open on a drive route. Once a Kansas City defender got within 6 yards of Barkley, he got flustered, failed to set his feet, and rushed a weak, looping throw to the back of the end zone.
Beathard: Aim for the Heart, Ramon!
Underneath the two touchdown passes and the 133 rating, CJ Beathard is a cold-blooded gun slinger.
The 49ers received the ball back with 7:52 left in the game. Beathard broke the huddle and brought the offense to the line at the 49ers 8-yard line. From there, he lead an 11 play, 6:56-minute drive that resulted in a field goal. Beathard threw only once, but his clock control was incredible. He ran eight plays, and methodically ground the clock down to the two-minute warning. Beathard looked completely at ease during the drive, as if leading a seven-minute drive at the end of the game was as routine as brushing his teeth.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, the 49ers had a 3rd and 11 on the Kansas City 46-yard line. Beathard lined up in a gun formation and took the snap. The pocket broke down quickly, and he just had a moment to collect himself and move to the left. He kept his eyes downfield and found WR Kendrick Bourne running wide open downfield. The ball was slightly underthrown, but Bourne was able to slow his route, make the catch, and run twenty yards for a touchdown.
Beathard is not without his flaws. He often stands completely still in the pocket, which impacts ball placement as he throws downfield. It’s also worth noting he was playing against weaker competition and did not find himself in a must-score situation. He may perform differently if the offense needs to score six points to win the game, or he plays against better players.
There’s No Clear Leader Yet
What’s going to break this stalemate is watching Barkley and Beathard compete in a series of unwinnable situations. How does Barkley play down by 20 points? What does Beathard look like after a big hit or throwing three straight interceptions? It would also help to see head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan call intermediate and deep routes, rather than a series of rocket screens or deliberately short routes. It’s critical we see who can scan the field or look off the safety, rather than zero in immediately on a speed out.
As the team moves into the next few preseason games, Shanahan needs to see his backup quarterbacks fight through a bit of adversity and see who rises to the challenge.