49ers: How can San Francisco fix their passing offense?
Months ago, I noted that the lack of a quarterback competition was going to come back and hurt Brian Hoyer. Reader reaction was a mixed bag of mockery, a passionate defense of the journeyman quarterback, a plea for another signal caller, and everything in between.
A real competition between two or three seasoned professionals may not have changed the outcome of the first two games for the San Francisco 49ers but would give head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan another option for Week 3.
The 49ers’ offense is atrocious, and the complete lack of execution lies on the shoulders of Brian Hoyer.
In the last two weeks, when the 49ers needed him to lead a drive for a touchdown, he’s come up empty.
Take Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
All of Hoyer’s failures are clear when the 49ers need eight or more yards on third down. For example, on the 49ers’ third offensive series, they found themselves in a third-and-eight situation. Shanahan called a route combination that had tight run immediately to his left and take out two defenders. Rookie wide receiver Trent Taylor was to cut under the route and have nothing but green turf in front of him.
Lined up wide of Taylor was a running back Carlos Hyde.
Taylor and tight end George Kittle ran the route combination to perfection. The problem was linebacker Bobby Wagner did not move on the play. Right away, Hoyer should have looked off that read. You cannot send a receiver Taylor’s size up against Bobby Wagner.
Hoyer had time to move in the pocket and find Hyde running a dig route that was right at the first down marker. Unfortunately, Hoyer chose Taylor and came up three yards short of a first down.
All the talk about Hoyer being the veteran who understood Shanahan’s offense has amounted to nothing but offseason nonsense. It’s unclear if Shanahan trusts Hoyer to execute a play longer than ten yards.
Shanahan has no options other than Hoyer, so what can the 49ers do to improve the passing game?
No, It’s Not Time for C.J. Beathard
Let’s cut the foreplay: This is not the time for the 49ers to toss rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard into the frying pan. Placing Beathard in a losing situation will not build his confidence or his skillset for the future. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with Hoyer behind center for the foreseeable future.
Use the Run Game to Set Up the Pass
When Shanahan was calling plays for Washington, he had rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins fill in for an injured Robert Griffin III. Shanahan made it simple for Cousins to succeed. He called a lot of play-action passes that had Cousins boot right. This action not only buys time, but it also freezes the linebackers for a moment and cuts the number of reads for a quarterback.
Plus, the routes on a rollout are often a high-low read. Think of your original flood play from high school; there’s one man deep, one man in the middle, one man short, and sometimes a backside drag route.
With running back Carlos Hyde coming off a 124-yard performance, the Los Angeles Rams have to be more concerned about containing the run than stopping the pass. A heavy play-action offense may give Hoyer a moment longer to see routes develop.
Get Rolling With the Short Passing Game
Tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown both had a solid game against Seattle, and Brown went another week without allowing a quarterback pressure. Pro Football Focus grades Brown at 86.8 through the first two weeks, placing him second among all NFL tackles.
I’m guilty of putting too much blame on the offensive line. The front five had some issues but provided time for Hoyer to throw the ball on Sunday. In fact, Hoyer was under pressure on five attempts against Seattle.
Shanahan already has short route combinations - slant-flat combinations and quick jerk routes - that force Hoyer to get the ball out of his hand quickly. Shanahan may want to consider using a ghost concept on a rollout or play-action. This combination is run from a trips set with the outside receiver running a go route, the next receiver running eight yards upfield and breaking out, and the inside receiver quickly running into the flat.
These routes, specifically the ghost combination, may create the separation Hoyer is looking for and provides him with two choices under 10 yards and one long if he’s feeling lucky. The other upside of a ghost combination is it’s near the sidelines. Right now, Shanahan needs to avoid calling plays with the primary receiver in the middle of the field as both of Hoyer’s interceptions came from short throws over the middle.
Ultimately, there may be no fix for Hoyer, meaning 49ers fans will have to suffer through this horror for the next 15 weeks. Hoyer has had good games, but they are too few and too far between. With only two more days to prepare for the Rams, it may take another week to see some real improvement in the passing game.