The San Francisco 49ers will have a new face starting under center on Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, with rookie C.J. Beathard taking the reins of Kyle Shanahan's offense.
Beathard came into the Week 6 loss with the Washington Redskins in relief of Brian Hoyer, who endured a terrible outing in the nation's capital, and was subsequently named as the starter by Shanahan after finishing with 245 yards passing, one touchdown and an interception.
But what can we expect from the third-round pick out of Iowa? His performance at FedEx Field provided more than a few indicators.
It was a significant indictment of Hoyer that the offense looked a lot better with Beathard at the controls. The moment did not appear too big for the rookie and, aside from one play where he ran sideways into a defender, he seemed calm under pressure.
However, while Beathard may prove an upgrade on Hoyer, expect the accuracy to be as spotty. Beathard looks to be superior at throwing with anticipation and leading receivers to the football, but he also had a number of high throws and saw a couple of passes to the sideline die in the air and become interceptable, hinting at a lack of top-level arm strength.
There were also several occasions where he showed an inability to read the field properly, with the most telling example coming on the failed game-winning drive as he attempted to push the ball downfield when he would have been better off checking it down to Carlos Hyde, who was in enough space to get the 49ers back in field goal range following a controversial offensive pass interference penalty against Pierre Garcon.
As Beathard demonstrated on his touchdown to Aldrick Robinson, he can throw on the run. Look for Shanahan to try to exploit that and attempt to negate the pass rush with plenty of play-action and designed roll-outs, though that will obviously be dependent on the 49ers' ability to have success against a Cowboys run defense ranked last in the league by Football Outsiders.
In terms of targets Garcon is likely to remain the top option as he was with Hoyer under center. Garcon has been targeted 56 times in six games and Beathard looked for him often on the key late drives against Washington.
Beathard also boasts an obvious rapport with former college teammate George Kittle and, because of his size and athleticism, there is a strong possibility that the rookie tight end will quickly become the new quarterback's safety net. Kittle figures to be featured heavily against the Cowboys, who are 29th in Football Outsiders' DVOA in defending tight ends.
Though he provided more of a spark to the offense than people may have anticipated, Beathard has plenty of weaknesses that Dallas could take advantage of. For Beathard to have a chance of success, he will, in all likelihood, need to be aided by big performances from the running backs, Garcon and Kittle.