49ers fans were shocked when Kyle Shanahan continued to stick with quarterback Nick Mullens late in their Week 15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, electing to trot the signal-caller back onto the field even after Mullens had thrown his second interception.
It wasn’t until Mullens was hit in the hand and lost feeling in his arm that Shanahan gave the green light for C.J. Beathard to take the reins. Beathard went on to complete five of his seven attempts for 100 yards including a 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne as time expired.
The two interceptions weren’t Mullens’ only turnovers in the 49ers 41-33 loss to the Cowboys. He also lost a fumble when he was sacked deep in Cowboys' territory during the first quarter. Dallas recovered the fumble and went on to score.
In Mullens' eight starts of the 2020 season, he has thrown as many touchdowns (13) as he has interceptions. He has been sacked 19 times and fumbled six times. Keeping him in the game is less a question about coaching than it is an indictment of Beathard’s lack of ability to sustain his production for a full 60 minutes.
If Shanahan believed Beathard gave the 49ers the best chance to win, why didn’t he immediately name him the starter when Jimmy Garoppolo was injured?
Beathard hasn’t started a game since Oct. 28, 2018, which capped a string of six losses in as many starts. The fourth-year quarterback has a 1-9 record as a starter, with his only win coming in Week 10 of the 2017 season over the New York Giants.
Fast forward to 2020 and Beathard has been able to run Shanahan’s two-minute drill effectively. In his 57 offensive snaps in the 2020 season, Beathard has completed 28 of his 45 attempts for 332 yards and two touchdowns giving him a 62.2-percent completion rate. In his 48 dropbacks, Beathard has been sacked three times (3.75%). Mullens has been sacked 19 times in 348 dropbacks (5.78%).
While Mullens' lack of pocket presence has been evident on the field, Beathard has not proven to be a vast improvement when he has played full games. Practice has been closed to media since the end of training camp but looking at Beathard’s career stats, the decision to keep Mullens under center becomes more clear.
In Beathard’s 503 career dropbacks, he has been sacked 40 times, a 7.95-percentage rate. Mullens' 5.62-percent rate is significantly lower, having been sacked 36 times in 640 dropbacks. Beathard also has a much lower career completion rate (57.8 percent) than Mullens (64.5). Beathard has connected 253 times on 438 attempts while Mullens has completed 387 of his 600 attempts.
While it may seem to the naked eye that Beathard has been more productive in his few appearances this season, Mullens has a higher completion rate connecting on 211 of his 326 attempts (64.7). Beathard has completed 28 of his 45 passes giving him a slightly lower success rate (62.2).
The 49ers' only other option outside of Garoppolo, who remains on IR with a high-ankle sprain, is Josh Johnson who was signed to the 49ers' practice squad in November. Johnson has not played in a game since the final game of the 2018 season when he was the quarterback for Washington.
Johnson has a 1-7 career record and is with his fifth NFL team and second stint with the 49ers. He has a 55.2 percent career completion rate connecting on 148 of his 268 attempts but his 8 percent sack to dropback rate beats both Beathard and Mullens hands down. Johnson has also thrown 14 interceptions against just eight touchdown passes.
While fans clamor to see a change at quarterback for the 49ers, the statistics could offer a partial explanation as to why Shanahan has not wavered on who his starter is since Garoppolo went out. Of course, the health of Mullen's arm could be in question as the team prepares to face the Arizona Cardinals.
But only time will tell if that will have an effect on who starts in Week 16.