Our 49ers.com writers are back to break down four pressing topics in the San Francisco 49ers Week 4 road game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Here's an outlook on Sunday's matchup in our weekly "Four Downs" series.
First Down: What are reasonable expectations for C.J. Beathard?
Joe Fann: To be a solid game manager
Shanahan has reaffirmed his confidence in Beathard time and time again this week following the season-ending injury to Jimmy Garoppolo. I think everyone in the 49ers locker room expects Beathard to give the team a chance to win against the Chargers. That means avoiding negative plays and making the throws that are there for him. We saw Beathard have some success with the deep ball, and he also ran for three touchdowns as a rookie. Beathard is the new leader of the offense, and I expect to see him carry himself as such.
Keiana Martin: Effectiveness moving downfield
The 49ers locker room isn’t panicking, so why should we? It’s apparent San Francisco has a lot of trust in Beathard. He has been handed a more complete team compared to his stretch last season, including an improved offensive line. The 49ers have struggled on third downs converting on just 30.3 percent through the first three weeks of the season. On the contrary, teams have been able to convert on 48.6 percent of third down opportunities against the Chargers, ranked fourth-worst in the league. With an upgraded supporting cast, the 49ers and the “C.J. Beathard show” will look to capitalize on the Chargers third down defense and extend drives on Sunday.
Second Down: Which position group needs to step up?
Joe Fann: Secondary
The 49ers may be without a few key members of the secondary against the Chargers. We know for sure that Richard Sherman (calf) is out. Adrian Colbert (hip) and Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) are also questionable. That means the 49ers will need guys like Ahkello Witherspoon and Jimmie Ward to step up. Antone Exum and D.J. Reed are others who will need to play well if called upon. San Francisco currently owns the 27th-ranked passing defense, and the 49ers are one of two teams in the NFL without an interception through three games. That needs to change if San Francisco is to get its first road win of the season.
Keiana Martin: Receivers
Last week against the Rams, the Chargers defense gave up 521 yards of offense, including 350 through the air. Dropped passes and mental errors have been San Francisco’s biggest downfall in the passing game. To add to that, and not a single 49ers receiver has topped more than 57 yards in a game. Contrary to last season, Beathard has all of his receiving options available, including veteran pass catcher Pierre Garçon. The most decorated of San Francisco’s wideouts has seen more targets this season than any other receiver (14), but has yet to record a single touchdown as a member of the 49ers. Beathard will be relying on the hands of Garçon and the rest of the 49ers pass catchers against standout star rookie safety Derwin James and the rest of the Chargers secondary.
Third Down: What is the key stat of the game?
Joe Fann: Rushing Yards
Alfred Morris and Matt Breida have a prime opportunity to take some of the pressure off of Beathard's shoulders. The 49ers second-ranked ground game has been rolling of late and will need that to continue against the Chargers. They'll need to keep it going against the league's 24th-ranked run defense as the Chargers are currently allowing 4.3 yards per carry.
Keiana Martin: Quarterback Pressures
The 49ers d-line will have their hands full against a Chargers offensive line that has allowed just four sacks in 2018. In his 15th NFL season, Philip Rivers is boasting a 69.4 completion percentage and has thrown eight touchdowns to just one interception through three weeks. San Francisco will need to put pressure on Rivers in the pocket and limit explosive plays in the passing game. Cassius Marsh along with the 49ers trio of first-round defensive linemen will need to keep consistent pressure on Rivers if they have any hopes of slowing the Chargers offense down.
Fourth Down: What is your bold prediction?
Joe Fann: Cassius Marsh gets two sacks
The 49ers defense desperately needs Marsh to get going. Marsh has flashed, but he's yet to finish and get his first sack of 2018. San Francisco's top edge rusher will look to open his account against Philip Rivers, who isn't known for being fleet of foot.
Keiana Martin: Beathard throws for 300 yards and two touchdowns
I’m still in awe when I think back to Beathard’s lone throw in the Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. On his first play off of the bench, Beathard threw a 7-yard touchdown to George Kittle in the back of the end zone. Though the score was nullified due to a penalty, it was impressive nonetheless. The Chargers are allowing 31 points and 392 yards per game. Beathard has had a week to prepare for the Chargers and a full offseason to digest Kyle Shanahan’s playbook. Both factors should serve him well in Los Angeles.