Editor’s note: Former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia, now an NBC Sports Bay Area analyst, will share his thoughts on the team each week throughout the season. This week, he examines the 49ers' lack of a running game against the Chargers.
The 49ers can expect to see more of the same until they make defenses pay the price.
The Los Angeles Chargers made it difficult for the 49ers to run the ball on Sunday. When you have a running game that has been as effective as the 49ers’ has been through the first quarter of the season, you’re going to get teams loading up the box, especially when you have an unproven passer.
C.J. Beathard isn't somebody who has scared defenses with his arm yet, so the 49ers can expect to continue to see an extra guy hanging around the line of scrimmage. They’re going to get that strong safety hanging down low in a linebacker position. It’s going to continue to be tough to block eight-man fronts.
Matt Breida carried nine times for 39 yards against the Chargers. Alfred Morris had just four attempts for 14 yards. The 49ers’ running backs combined for just 13 rushing attempts, while Beathard threw 37 passes. He was sacked once and scrambled on several other pass plays.
One of the reasons they didn't run the ball as much was because they didn't have much success. They didn’t seem to be getting the edge or the three-way look that they want to see when they run the zone stretch. There just weren’t many running lanes.
When you run the zone stretch, you have three options: You either press the edge and get outside; you put your foot in the ground and hit it up the field; or you have the cut-back lane.
The 49ers weren't getting clean looks where they were able to break off the 8-, 10-, 12-yard runs like they did in the first three games. Each guy had one. Breida had a 12-yard run, and Morris had an 8-yard run. But they didn’t seem to have any consistency in the run game at all.
It didn’t help that their offensive line was nowhere near full strength due to knee injuries. Left tackle Joe Staley didn’t play at all in the second half. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey and center Weston Richburg stayed in the game but were hobbled after their injuries. And right guard Mike Person has been banged up, too. All those guys are hurting. And when you’re run-blocking, it’s a tough thing to get movement off the line of scrimmage when none of your guys are at 100 percent.
All of that probably contributed to the play-calling. Coach Kyle Shanahan was probably feeling, “Hey, we’re going to be running against a front where we’re going to be leaving guys unblocked, so why try to bang our heads against the wall when we can have one-on-one looks outside against a team that has given up a lot of yards through the air?”
Beathard will continue to have opportunities to make big plays in the passing game when defenses make the decision to place so much emphasis on stopping the 49ers’ run game.
He showed accuracy. He showed effectiveness throwing the football from within the pocket. One of the things that happens when you don’t have the running game is now your play-action/movement game becomes less effective.
How do the 49ers generate some production in the running game, beginning Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals and moving forward? They have to show they are a threat through the air.
If Beathard can continue to make good decisions and put the ball on locations where his guys have opportunities to make plays, that’s going to create different coverage looks. It’s going to get that eighth guy out of the box and get more two-deep or shell-coverage looks so that now they would be running against one less defender. That’s when you will have more opportunities to be effective in the running game.