The 49ers lost a close one this week on the road to the Los Angeles Chargers. Surprisingly, quarterback C.J. Beathard, filling in for Jimmy Garoppolo, had a great game. In my opinion, the two interceptions that were thrown should have been caught by the receivers and weren’t completely Beathard’s fault. In what was his first start this season, he surprised many fans with his toughness and poise in the pocket.
Last week I mentioned that a key for that 49ers to win was to establish the run and keep the pressure off Beathard. They did not follow that game plan and their running backs only received 13 carries.
While Beathard did a great job of running the offense, the 49ers should have ran the ball more often to keep the defense off balance and create plays downfield. In a limited capacity, Matt Breida continued his great display at the running back position. He finished with nine carries for 39 yards (4.3 YPC) and tacked on 32 receiving yards on three catches. Alfred Morris added another four carries and 14 yards, but was banged up coming into the game.
On the other end, Chargers' Melvin Gordon put on a show at the StubHub Center. He finished with 104 rushing yards on 15 carries, and had seven catches for 55 receiving yards and a touchdown reception. He tore apart the 49ers’ defense almost every time he touched the ball, so he is the Fourth and Nine star running back for this week.
The 49ers are the NFL’s worst defense in terms of missed tackles, and Gordon consistently took advantage of that.
On the run above, Gordon showed the determination that we pointed out during last week’s running back preview by breaking six tackles on the way to a big 14-yard run. The most embarrassing part is that both Malcolm Smith (#51) and Deforest Buckner (#99) had Gordon wrapped up behind the line of scrimmage, but still allowed him to get away. The players that came after that either took a bad angle to the ball carrier or attempted to tackle Gordon without wrapping him up.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, the bad tackling didn’t end there.
Gordon on this play ran a “stop” route out of the backfield. On this type of pattern the running back essentially sprints toward the flat and stops in any open space in the defense. This route works well against zone, and coordinator Robert Saleh was calling it all game. When Gordon finds space behind Reuben Foster (#56) and Ahkello Witherspoon (#23), he runs upfield and spins off a terrible tackle by Antone Exum (#38) for a receiving touchdown.
Even though Gordon was putting on a clinic against the 49ers’ defense in all aspects of the game, there were times where he was tasked with staying in the backfield to provide pass protection for Philip Rivers. The 49ers have struggled mightily to create pressure in pass rushing situations, and the little chances they did have were often neutralized by Gordon.
Here the 49ers were lined up in a “nickel” formation against the Chargers’ four wideout set. They sent their two linebackers on a blitz in an attempt to create pressure and possibly force a 3rd-and-long. Gordon neutralized the blitz by stepping into the open gap and helping his offensive line keep the defenders at bay. This created enough time for Rivers (#17) to get the ball to Tyrell Williams (#16) for a nice gain.
Gordon is one of the top running backs in the league, and it was always going to be difficult for the 49ers to neutralize him. However, the 49ers need to improve their tackling in order to have a chance against the tough running backs they will face, or else they will have more embarrassing defensive games like the one we witnessed Sunday.
The 49ers in Week 5 will travel back to Santa Clara to face David Johnson and the winless Arizona Cardinals.
Fourth and Nine Star Running Backs:
Week 1: Dalvin Cook
Week 2: Matt Breida
Week 3: Matt Breida
Week 4: Melvin Gordon
Sources: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times, NFL.com, Pro Football Reference, NFL Gamebook