When the Dallas Cowboys head west to take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, they will be facing an offense that will be unlike it was for the first six games of the 49ers season. The 49ers have made a change at quarterback, inserting rookie C.J. Beathard for journeyman Brian Hoyer. The 49ers offense has struggled for the most part this season, although they were getting better as the season progressed. Beathard gave them a spark last week when he took over in their game against Washington. Even though the 49ers eventually lost the game, they had a chance late to win if not for an unfortunate penalty.
Beathard went 19 of 36 for 245 yards in a little over two quarters in the Washington game. The 49ers had been impressed with his practices and preseason and were waiting for the right time to put him in. They found it when their offense was doing nothing against Washington. For the foreseeable future, Beathard is their starter, and will get his first turn at the helm starting a game against the Cowboys on Sunday.
The 49ers feature a pretty talented runner in Carlos Hyde, but his volume numbers aren’t overly impressive so far this season. He does feature a 4.2 yards per attempt average, and he can hurt you as a pass receiver. The Cowboys have not done well covering running backs out of the backfield with their linebackers.
Leading the receivers is Pierre Garcon, a talented receiver who the Cowboys know well from his time in Washington. They also have Marquise Goodwin who can be a big-play threat, but the 49ers struggle to score through the air, averaging less than one passing touchdown per game. They did hit on a 45-yard scoring play to Aldrick Robinson against Washington.
A big problem for the 49ers offense this season has been dropped passes. It was an issue last week.
Dropped passes have been a major problem for the 49ers offense this season, and they showed up again in ugly fashion during the loss to the Redskins Sunday as per Pro Football Focus, the team dropped seven passes in the game to extend their league lead in the category to 20.
Dropping seven passes on one game is crushing, especially in a game that they lost by only two points.
One area they might want to exploit more is their uptempo offense. Our sister blog Niners Nation weighed in a little more on this issue.
In Washington, the 49ers punted on their first five drives. They were only able to manage one first down in the first quarter and 11 yards. In the second quarter the offense only mustered three first downs and 52 yards before the two minute drill. Once the clock hit 1:51, they kicked it into high gear and put together a 11 play 75 yard drive that included six first downs.
Here’s what Carlos Hyde said about the two minute drill:
I think the sense of urgency got us more urgent getting to the ball, running our routes, quarterbacks, hitting guys on time. I think it’s that sense of urgency. If we’d had that sense of urgency throughout the game, then maybe it would’ve had a different outcome.
I also asked Kyle Shanahan about why it seems so effective.
I’m not sure. Sometimes it depends on the coverages they are playing. I mean, guys made a couple of plays there. I don’t think it’s been like that every time. But today guys got into a little bit of rhythm – made a couple of explosives on the off-schedule plays. Today looked good for the guys.
— The 49ers rank 25th in scoring at 18.8 per game, although over the last two games they have put up over 20 points.
— Their offense ranks 20th in passing yards (226.5) and 23rd rushing (94.8).
— They have struggled to convert third downs, ranking 30th in third down pct. (30.8%)
— They have allowed the seventh-most sacks on the year with 18.
Having to face a new quarterback will be a real wild-card for the Cowboys defense. One would guess the Cowboys will want to pressure him and trick him, hoping to force him into bad decisions and turnovers. The Cowboys have the pass rush to accomplish this and the 49ers are susceptible to the pass rush. The 49ers will likely try to rely on Carlos Hyde some more given that the Cowboys have not been especially stout against the run. Dallas will probably stack the box and dare Beathard to beat them. If Sean Lee can return, this strategy will be all the more effective.