Nevius: Not getting hit would be a wise move for Beathard

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No one is excited to watch the 49ers’ C.J. Beathard absorb punishment for the next 12 games. More important, you have to wonder how much longer coach Kyle Shanahan can stand it.

After the injury to the sainted Jimmy Garoppolo, it was back to the future with Beathard at quarterback. But, we were told, this is C.J. 2.0. He is more comfortable with the offense. He’s getting the ball away in a nanosecond.

And yet last Sunday against the Chargers, he was often in a familiar posture: flinging a hopeful pass into double coverage while falling backwards under pressure. He was only sacked once, but took eight hits, including that cover-your-eyes shot to the chest that left him on all fours, gasping for air. If you saw a collision like that on the street you’d call an ambulance.

At this point we are obligated to say that Beathard is one tough dude. Show of hands, how many thought he would come back into the game after that sternum-shot? Me either. So let’s stipulate: tough as a boot, this guy.

However …

Not getting hit is also part of the job description. Nobody makes the Pro Bowl on his ability to get back to their feet. Tom Brady, now 41 years old, has been avoiding big hits for years. The ball is gone before anyone arrives.

It is true that Beathard has an almost surreal ability to attract large, angry, on-rushing men. In seven appearances last season, Beathard was sacked 19 times and took 52 (!) hits. Garoppolo played in six and was sacked eight times.

Conventional wisdom is that Beathard hangs onto the ball too long. There’s probably something to that. Asked what could be done to help Beathard, Shanahan suggested, “Try to get rid of the ball versus pressure.”

Beathard does not seem to be making that play. Granted, not many can.

Shanahan has to be having flashbacks to Brian Hoyer, his erstwhile quarterback. Hoyer (16 sacks, six games) had the look and the grit for the job, but clearly frustrated Shanahan with his inability to hit the right guy at the right time.

The coach has to be discouraged to watch these winnable games, like last Sunday’s, slip away because his offense can’t execute. He has to think, maybe this is as well as we can play with the personnel we have.

But, it says here, if the frustration level gets too high, you have to wonder if the team won’t make a move before the Oct. 30 trade deadline. (Cleveland’s Tyrod Taylor?)

Or, misfortune might force their hand. Nobody can take the kind of beating Beathard is absorbing forever. If he gets hurt the team will have to do something.

But there was another factor on Sunday. Holding a 14-6 lead in the second quarter, Beathard dropped back and found safety Derwin James in his face. And no wonder. When James, a rookie sensation, blitzed, no one blocked him.

Beathard attempted to feather a pass over James, who batted the ball down. OK, an unexpected safety blitz. It happens.

But if I had a time machine, I’d go back to that moment and tell Beathard to put a pin in it. Because the same thing happened over and over, and there never seemed to be any adjustment.

James sacked Beathard once and hit him three times — hard. In the first half, Beathard just managed to get a pass off as James — unblocked again — blasted him in the chest and crashed him into the knee of Joe Staley, putting the tackle out of the game.

That pass was complete for a first down.

But you get the idea. Even the good plays hurt.

Now return with us to the final minutes of the game. The Niners are down by two and are backed up near their own end zone.

On a passing down, James walks right up to the line of scrimmage, literally stomping his feet in anticipation. He’s clearly coming. Marquise Goodwin even points at him. But there’s nobody there to block him.

Untouched, James roars into the backfield and blasts Beathard’s shoulder as he attempts to get rid of the ball.

It pops up limply in the air and falls into the hands of a Chargers lineman.

Game over.

As TV analyst James Lofton said, “How do you not recognize Derwin James?”


As a guy on the couch, I’d say one of two things happened.

Perhaps Shanahan, wearing his offensive coordinator cap, did not realize that James was blitzing them silly all game. And he failed to identify where James was coming from and did not adjust formation and protection.

I suppose that’s possible. But it flies in the face of smart football people who think Shanahan is an offensive guru.

Another possibility is that the quarterback is supposed to recognize blitzers and audible into a formation that will provide some protection. Did Beathard miss his read?

We may never know. But to fail to do that, to give the most disruptive pass rusher on the field a free path, at that critical moment, is inexcusable. It is not giving yourself a chance to win.

In Garoppolo, they had the guy. They were building it all around him.

Now they have to make do with Beathard. He’s tough and resilient. He stands and delivers. But so far he’s lacking that touch of magic.

And sadly, you need a touch of magic.

Contact C.W. Nevius at Twitter: @cwnevius

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