San Francisco 49ers second-year quarterback CJ Beathard will make his 2018 debut as a starter against a Los Angeles Chargers defense that is missing two of its best players. Without edge defender Joey Bosa and cornerback Jason Verrett, the Chargers defense has allowed the ninth-most yards per game so far this season.
Despite missing Bosa, the Chargers still have many weapons on defense. Rookie safety Derwin James has been all over the field, and already has an interception and two sacks this season. Linebacker Denzel Perryman is a tackling machine. And Melvin Ingram brings versatility to the defensive line. The Chargers defense is ranked at the bottom half of the NFL, but the 49ers would be foolish to think that yardage will be easy to come by.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has modeled his defense after the 4-3 base he had in Seattle from 2009-2012. With a 4-3, the defense opts to have four down linemen and three linebackers in the base package. It requires two big defensive tackles to take up as much space as possible, and defensive ends who bring the heat on every play.
The three linebackers have to be fast enough to cover any running lanes that the defensive line allows and get deep enough in coverage. Seattle was great at stopping the run because the defensive line was able to hold up the offensive line long enough to allow players like Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor to come in and make tackles. On this next play, the Chargers defense employed the same tactics in stopping an inside run.
Pay attention to defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (#92). He was the first player to get off the line and didn’t allow the center to move him from his position. This created traffic in the area where Patriots running back Dion Lewis (#33) was headed and allowed Jahleel Addae (#37) to get in the backfield for the tackle.
Good 4-3 defenses are very hard to run on and the 49ers offense should look to run the ball away from the big defensive tackles to avoid the traffic for smaller running back Matt Breida. Alfred Morris, however, is a bigger running back who can put his head down and run effectively between the tackles.
While the Chargers defense can make plays to stop a team’s momentum, it is in the bottom half of the league for a reason. They've given up big plays since last season and rely on the arm of Philip Rivers to win games. Last season against the Chargers, Kareem Hunt ran for 155 yards and a big chunk of his yardage came up the middle on plays like this:
On this play, the Chiefs were able to use the Chargers’ aggressiveness against them by calling a draw. Hunt moved through the heart of the defensive line and broke a tackle on his way to a 13-yard run. The 49ers like to run more out of the singleback and I formations, but do mix in draw plays out of shotgun formations on passing downs to confuse the defense.
On this play from Week 1, the Chargers had James (#33) blitz from the outside. He used his athleticism to beat Eric Fisher (#72) and sacked Patrick Mahomes. Joe Staley is great at picking up defenders and doesn’t get beat often, but Breida and Morris have to be ready for the exotic blitzes that Bradley will dial up. If they do not, it’ll be a long day for Beathard.
With Garoppolo out, the 49ers will have to rely on the running game to set the tone and get Beathard into a rhythm. When he is comfortable, he has the ability to make the necessary throws to keep the offense moving. People also forget that Beathard is quick and can break big runs if there’s nothing else available.
This gem came from last year’s preseason game against the Chargers is a good example. When all else fails, the 49ers can hope the young quarterback will turn to his running game to move the ball. If he takes what the defense gives him, the 49ers may be able to shock the Chargers a second time and come away with a win.