Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports



The San Francisco 49ers have played four weeks of agonizing football. It doesn't matter how close the 49ers came to winning; the fact remains that they've scored the second-fewest touchdowns in the league and complete less than 60-percent of their pass attempts.

But, as in season's past, the 49ers have fantastic ability to kick field goals.

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There's plenty of blame to pass around on the offense: the interior line positions are below average, receivers and tight ends are dropping game-changing passes, and the team cannot convert on third down – they are 18-for-60 on third down this season.

These variables are not part of a winning equation.

Above all, quarterback Brian Hoyer cannot operate head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense. In a weird twist, the 49ers brought Hoyer to Santa Clara because he knew Shanahan's system, and Shanahan awarded Hoyer the starting job in May without any competition.

Indeed, the 49ers' defense keeps the team in a position to win games, and the offense is in dire need of change. However, the answer is not replacing Hoyer with rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard.

Here are three alternate answers.

Double-Down on the Running Game


Remember the summer rumor that the 49ers were thinking of trading veteran running back Carlos Hyde? It was a foolish idea in July, and it seems utterly absurd today. Hyde is the one skill player keeping the 49ers' offense from resembling an eternal tire fire.

Through four games, the 49ers' rushing attack averages 104.5 yards per game, gaining 4.4 yards per carry, and scoring three touchdowns. Hyde, rookie Matt Breida, and veteran Raheem Mostert are turning lead into gold and finding ways to gain needed yardage.

However, the 49ers need more from these three running backs for two reasons:
  1. The ball is immediately removed from Hoyer's icy hand.
  2. Running helps set up the play-action for when the 49ers need to throw.

If you missed it, Pro Football Focus issued some interesting numbers on Hoyer following the loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Through four weeks, when Hoyer uses play-action, he is 26-for-39, with 313 yards. He's tossed two touchdowns, one interception, and has a 97.5 passer rating.

However, there is a severe drop in skill when Hoyer attempts other throws. On non-play-action passes, he's 60-for-109, with 545 yards, three interceptions, and a 57.3 passer rating.

It seems obvious when looking at the numbers that play-action has saved Hoyer from holding a clipboard. Any straight pass play - something that requires three, five, or seven-step drops - strains Hoyer's abilities.

Shanahan has no choice but to increase the workload for his running backs to maximize play-action, which is Hoyer's lonesome skill.

Call "Move-the-Pocket" Passes


All is not lost in the passing game. Shanahan must have a section in his playbook that calls for the quarterback to move left or right – toward the strength of the offensive line's protection – immediately after the snap.

"Move-the-pocket" plays can employ play-action, use a three-to-five step short waggle to the left or right, or are a naked sprint, much like the famous "Sprint Right Option" play.

The 49ers have two of the best offensive tackles in the league – Joe Staley and Trent Brown – so it makes sense for Hoyer to run to the edge of the line of scrimmage or beyond to make a throw. Additionally, it moves him away from the interior of the 49ers' line, which is playing below average football.

Some "move-the-pocket" calls allow a free release for the fullback, while other plays develop slowly and key on reactions from specific defensive players. Ultimately, the route combinations reduce Hoyer's reads and allow him to throw out-of-bounds if things get too complicated.

Also, "move-the-pocket" plays do limit the distance of a route, though I don't know if anyone trusts Hoyer's accuracy on deep throws or some receivers to make the required catch. Regardless, there are two-man route combinations that work well with "move-the-pocket" calls; these routes can stress a specific coverage vertically, leaving someone open short.

Short and Intermediate Throws to the Sidelines


Maybe it's me, but any time Hoyer attempts a throw to the middle of the field, my stomach drops into my toenails.

Despite throwing an interception on a speed out, short and intermediate throws toward the sidelines may be a solution to gain small chunks of yards and move the ball downfield.

If I'm Shanahan, I'm going to use route a combination such as "Twirl," which has the slot and outside receiver both running synchronized 18-yard stop routes and looping toward the sideline. However, I'd cut the distance on the route to 10-12 yards. A "Smash" combination also works, with the inside receiver running a corner and the outside receiver running a short hitch. The 49ers ran "Smash" against Carolina in Week 1. Hoyer found wide receiver Marquise Goodwin down the sideline; however, Goodwin dropped the ball.

"Snag" is a useful three-man combination that's similar to "Smash," but adds a receiver in the flat and sends the outside receiver on a spot route toward the linebackers.

Another three-man combination, "Sail," is already in Shanahan's playbook and is an elementary flood left or right. The outside receiver runs a go route, the second receiver runs a 12-yard out, and the slot or third receiver runs into the flat. I'm confident that Hoyer has thrown successful flood plays since Pop Warner football, and can execute this concept at the professional level.

Placing Beathard in the starting role just to see what he can do is not proper player development, nor does it mean the 49ers will win football games. Shanahan and general manager John Lynch may be forced to find a free agent to relieve Hoyer if he cannot find a way to operate the offense and put points on the board.