Grant Cohn: No excuses this week for the 49ers — they must beat the Cardinals
No freaking excuses this Sunday.
No one cares how many injuries the 49ers have.
They’re at home against the NFL’s only winless team, the Arizona Cardinals, who have a rookie quarterback, Josh Rosen, making his first career road start. A loss would shock and embarrass the 49ers. Just win.
The Cardinals are awful. They have the NFL’s worst offense. It scores the fewest points (9.2) in the NFL, and runs the fewest plays (49.5). It’s boring, conservative and unimaginative.
It used to be one of the most creative and aggressive offenses under head coach Bruce Arians. But, he retired during the offseason. His replacement, Steve Wilks, has a defensive background. He hired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, an overrated retread the Denver Bronocs fired after Week 11 last season.
McCoy’s offense looks like this: Two-yard runs up the middle mixed with dink-and-dunk passes and maybe one throw per game that travels more than 25 yards downfield. Or, maybe not. Their longest completed pass of the season has been just 35 yards.
McCoy coaches scared. Coaches not to lose. Forces his players to be perfect. No penalties, sacks or dropped passes. One mistake will ruin a drive because he’s constantly facing third down. He gives them no margin for error.
The Cardinals won’t take Sunday’s game from the 49ers. They’ll hope the 49ers beat themselves.
Here’s how the 49ers can avoid doing that.
1. Know the freaking plays.
The 49ers beat themselves last Sunday partly because they didn’t know the freaking plays. More specifically, Reuben Foster didn’t know one. He covered the wrong guy in the red zone and left tight end Antonio Gates wide open to catch a touchdown pass. Gave the Chargers seven free points in a game the 49ers lost by two.
The Cardinals will win if the 49ers defense continues to leave receivers “scot-free, buck-naked wide open,” to borrow a phrase from 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman.
But the Cardinals will score no more than 17 points if the 49ers defenders simply line up correctly and cover the players they’re supposed to cover.
2. Run the freaking ball.
The 49ers don’t need lots of points to win. They need to protect the ball and quarterback C.J. Beathard. Keep him healthy. Keep him alive. He got hit 16 times last week and committed two turnovers. The 49ers exposed him unnecessarily.
Beathard threw 37 passes, scrambled four times and got sacked once against the Chargers. His running backs carried the ball just 13 times. An absurd ratio of runs to passes, especially considering Beathard, a backup, was the quarterback.
Six times in Beathard’s career, he has attempted at least 36 passes in a game. In those contests, Beathard threw seven interceptions and the 49ers lost every time.
Once, Beathard threw just 25 passes in a game. And the 49ers won. They beat the New York Giants 31-21. That was Beathard’s only win. He’s effective in small doses. The more he passes, the more likely he turns the ball over. The 49ers should take the ball away from him as much as possible and hand it to the running backs.