Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers head into their Week 4 matchup against the LA Chargers with a 1-2 record, one more win than they had going into Shanahan’s first Week 4 during last season. Improvement will be, and always was going to be, a big storyline for the 49ers this season. Some people placed the proof of improvement as a Super Bowl win or making the playoffs. Predictions and hype was more subdued coming from the inhabitants of 4949 Marie P DeBartolo Way, with talk of an improved roster, but not such lofty goals.
The storybook beliefs of 2018 crumbled in Week 3, causing coaches and team officials to plot a new course over these next 14 weeks, writing in some new characters.
Jimmy Garoppolo will not play another down of football in 2018 thanks to a torn ACL he sustained during a very promising come from behind attempt against the now-3-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Although Beathard played five games in 2017, his rookie campaign, to say he’s seasoned would be an overstatement. Beathard showed in 2017 that he was tough, a good leader, and could throw a heck of a long ball. In the 2018 preseason games, he showed that he was not a threat to taking the starting job without an injury to Garoppolo. Now that injury has thrust him into the team’s starting quarterback position, and nobody truly knows what to expect. Shanahan stated that losing Jerrick McKinnon changed his game plans more than losing Garoppolo because Beathard and Garoppolo are very similar quarterbacks. With Garoppolo playing rather inconsistently, fans don’t really know how much this will affect the offense moving forward. Defenses will stack the box more, this is for sure, but if Marquise Goodwin can come back as a healthy deep option, and Dante Pettis can continue to get past his opponent, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Beathard push that box back a little bit with some play action deep balls. The real question is: will the offensive line be able to give him enough time to find those speedsters deep?
What about the rest of the backfield?
Breida has had a great first three weeks of football, enjoying an 8.6 yards per carry average for a total of 274 yards on 32 carries. In a true timeshare with Alfred Morris, it will be interesting to see what Breida will be able to do and how the carries shake out between Morris and Breida with Beathard under center. Morris gets the goal line carries, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Breida see an uptick in targets and catches with Beathard. In 2017 the running backs saw their targets decrease with Garoppolo finding Trent Taylor and George Kittle more often. With the aforementioned stacked boxes, will we see Shanahan hand the ball to Morris – more of a bruising back -- more often, or will we see the same carry-load? Will we see Morris and Breida both line up in the backfield before Breida motions out wide? With Shanahan stating that he will not need to change the offense much with Beathard under center, any changes will probably be dictated by a change in how teams of defending, not a change in what Shanahan wants to do.
The 49ers’ defense leads the league in missed tackles. The loss of Richard Sherman will not improve that, as he has shown a good ability to bring down opponents, even if it isn’t in a crushing manner. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has been preaching violence, but the 49ers defense has been much more PG-13 than rated R. The defense did hold the Chiefs offense to only a field goal in the second half, but they also gave up FIVE touchdowns in the first half. Warner and Foster showed they can play next to each other and complement each other, and this team’s defense has shown enough talent that if they were able to make the majority of those missed tackles, they could be sitting at 2-1 or even 3-0. They are currently giving up 384.7 yards per game, good for 22nd in the league and a whopping 5.4 yards per play. Bad tackling is a big reason these stats aren’t better, as well as why their opponents are converting on 52% of their third downs. Going against Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon will not make Week 4 any easier for this defense.
Shanahan is not one to tank a season. We saw that with the team’s five wins to close out the season in 2017. You have to believe, behind closed doors and in the locker room, that he still believes this team could make the playoffs. With that said, do we see Pettis take away more routes from Pierre Garcon, who many fans are calling for the team to trade? Does Richie James get activated? Do we see Jullian Taylor activated? What about D.J. Reed? With Sherman out of a month, do we see Reed and Tarvarius Moore receive more snaps in the defensive backfield? How this team develops will have more to do with what 2019 looks like than where the team picks in the 2019 draft will.
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