Grant Cohn: No excuses this week for the 49ers — they must beat the Cardinals

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No freaking excuses this Sunday.

No one cares how many injuries the 49ers have.

Must-win game.

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.

3. Throw to the freaking running backs.

If the Cardinals load up to stop the run, dump the ball to the running backs in the flat. Let them take hits for Beathard.

The Cardinals’ best chance to win the game involves knocking Beathard out of it. His backup, Nick Mullens, has never played a snap in the NFL. So, the 49ers must do everything possible to limit the damage Beathard takes. He should take no more than five hits in this game. Any more would be unnecessary.

Kyle Shanahan should call passes that feature the running back as the first or second read in the progression. That way, Beathard can release the ball in fewer than two seconds. If the running back is third in the progression, Beathard may not get to him. Beathard may get crushed first.

4. Move the freaking pocket.

Last week, Beathard dropped straight back and passed from the pocket 41 times. He rolled out to throw only once. No wonder he took 16 massive hits.

Shanahan should know better. He and his father Mike are known for rolling out their quarterbacks and “moving the pocket” left and right.

Moving the pocket creates a split-second of doubt in the defensive linemen’s minds, because they don’t know where the quarterback will be. They have to look and find him. Can’t rush blindly to the same spot all game.

Shanahan should make Beathard roll out five to 10 times this Sunday. Just enough to make the Cardinals pause and think.

5. Shorten Beathard’s freaking drops.

When Shanahan doesn’t call roll outs, he should call quick passes, ones primarily featuring three-step drops by the quarterback.

Last week, Shanahan called 17 passes with a drop of three steps or fewer. During those plays, Beathard threw one touchdown pass and no interceptions. He also took zero sacks, his completion percentage was 62 and his passer rating was 101.4. Excellent stats.

But, Beathard also took 25 drops of five steps or more. And during those plays, he threw one touchdown pass and two interceptions. He also got sacked once, his completion percentage was 42 and his passer rating was 55.6. Miserable stats.

Deep drops are difficult for a young quarterback. They make him read lots of coverages and face lots of pressure.

Short drops short-circuit the pass rush and reduce the reading and the decisions Beathard must make during plays. At least seventy-five percent of his passes this week should have short drops.

Get the ball out of his hands, Kyle. Beat these pitiful Cardinals. No freaking excuses.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers and Bay Area sports for The Press Democrat and in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at

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