Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports



The San Francisco 49ers return home today to take on the Arizona Cardinals. Once again, the 49ers are underdogs at home and are limping into the Week 9 matchup without key players.

Earlier in the week, the team placed wide receiver Pierre Garçon on season-ending injured reserve due to a neck injury. Tackle Joe Staley will be out today after breaking his orbital bone against Philadelphia. Defensive linemen Solomon Thomas, D.J. Jones, and Aaron Lynch along with tackle Garry Gilliam and cornerback K'Waun Williams are also out for the game.

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It's not kickoff yet, and the outlook appears a bit bleak.

However, this is a game the 49ers can win. Here are two keys to victory.

Use the Short Passing Game


This season, the 49ers rank first in the league in pass attempts with 315 and are 21st overall with 182 rushes.

While former quarterback Brian Hoyer was behind center, he attempted 205 throws through six weeks of football. During that same period, head coach Kyle Shanahan called roughly 120 rushing attempts.

Under the bruised and beaten reign of rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard, the 49ers have thrown the ball 110 times and rushed 62 times.

No matter who's behind center, Shanahan calls 1.7 times more passes than runs. In fact, the number of pass attempts over rushes increased somewhat when Beathard became the starting quarterback.

The apparent improvement to help the passing game is to ask more from running backs Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida. However, Shanahan seems bound and determined to throw his way to a victory.

When Beathard throws today, Shanahan needs to keep the pass plays short that force Beathard to throw with timing.

Shanahan is running a hybrid version of the West Coast Offense. No, Gentle Reader, this is not Bill Walsh's offense. Routes and play calls may look and sound the same, but it's Shanahan's mutated version of the heralded system.

A slight return to the foundation of the authentic West Coast Offense – ball control through the air with short passes timed to the quarterback's drop and receivers route – may help Beathard improve.

Today, Shanahan needs to get the ball out of Beathard's hands quickly, and not have him sit back in the pocket and think.

Dusting off two plays from Walsh, the first I'd suggest is East Right 'X', X Short, 200 Jet, Z Slant. It works well against two-deep or any four-man coverage. Here's what it looks like starting from the left.

The Z-receiver, lined up alone on the left, runs a five-yard slant. The Y-receiver runs a six-yard spot route, the U-receiver runs a seven-yard comeback, and the X-receiver heads directly to the flat. Beathard has a three-step drop, and his primary read is the Z-receiver's slant. His next read is the Y-receiver, and finally the U-receiver.

The blocking scheme, 200 Jet, is a six-man protection: the five linemen and the fullback who picks up anyone leaking through from the right guard to outside the right tackle.

Another staple Walsh play was Double Right, 70 Z-In.

Starting from the left: The X-receiver runs a seven-step post pattern, and the extra tight end can stay in and block. He can also leak out three-to-five yards into the left flat if his defender drops. The Y-receiver is lined up on the right and runs a spot route that's eight-yards off the line of scrimmage. Finally, the Z-receiver runs a 12-yard comeback but bends the direction slightly toward the corner before coming back to the quarterback.

The play has a lone running back who runs a hot route to the right. Beathard reads the Z receiver first, the hot route second and the Y-receiver third. 70 Z-in works very well against Cover 3 or a zone-blitz.

Beathard will find success with both plays as long as he can keep his timing down. Plus, these are not complicated reads or routes. There are no out-routes to the sidelines or anything that asks him to throw across the field.

Additionally, with a make-shift offensive line trying to protect Beathard, Shanahan must use five or six-man protection calls to keep Beathard upright instead of on his back staring up at the Santa Clara sky.

Thanksgiving Comes Early for the Defensive Line


If there was a day this season for the defensive line to play their best football, then today is that day.

The 49ers have a terrible offensive line, but the Arizona Cardinals' line is far worse. In the Cardinals' blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams, its line gave up three sacks. Pro Football Focus noted that four of the five Cardinal linemen gave up at least two quarterback pressures.

Further, the Cardinals' line paved the way for 25 net rushing yards, getting outrushed by nearly every youth football team in America and the United Kingdom that day.

Oh, and veteran quarterback Carson Palmer broke his arm.

The 49ers' defensive line can dominate in the trenches this afternoon and can do so from the opening series. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh needs to find schemes that keep quarterback Drew Stanton on the run and that force running back Adrian Peterson to pass block.

Peterson may have an illustrious career as a rusher, but he's one of the worst running backs in the NFL when it comes to pass blocking. Saleh must kill two birds with one stone: exploit the offensive line's weaknesses and Peterson's complete dislike for pass blocking.

Today will not be a pretty game for either team or fans watching around the world. In fact, the only way to make it through this afternoon may be to find a bar or restaurant that's hosting a Build Your Own Bloody Mary event for a fair price.

I'm covering today's game for the Webzone, so please be sure to keep your social media tuned to our Twitter and Facebook pages. Also, I'll host another Facebook Live at halftime.