San Francisco 49ers

Fifty-one passes? Why 49ers are having trouble finding balance on offense

Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard (3) attempted 51 passes and was hit 16 times in the 49ers’ home loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard (3) attempted 51 passes and was hit 16 times in the 49ers’ home loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

When NFL fans think of pass-happy offenses, they might imagine gaudy statistics, inflated scores, receiver-heavy formations and prolific quarterbacks.

The 49ers have taken the concept in a decidedly different direction.

Although they’ve passed more than any other team – 366 attempts – they have little to show for it.

Touchdowns? They’ve thrown six, the fewest in the NFL. Their top two wideouts this year, Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin, have not scored in 2017.

Passing yards? They average 217 a game, ranking them 18th.

Wins? The 49ers and the Cleveland Browns still don’t have any.

Instead, the 49ers lead the league in incompletions and quarterback hits taken.

Sunday’s 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was an extreme example. Despite missing arguably their two best offensive players, Garcon and left tackle Joe Staley, C.J. Beathard threw 51 passes, the most for a 49ers quarterback since Tim Rattay had 57 attempts in an overtime shootout with the Cardinals in 2004. Beathard completed only 47 percent of his throws – five were dropped – and he was hit 16 times.

Why expose a rookie quarterback to that kind of punishment especially when his backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, only has just begun to learn the offense?

Coach Kyle Shanahan on Monday said that wasn’t the 49ers’ plan heading into the game.

“If you would have told me after the game that we were in the 50s (in pass attempts), I would say, ‘How much did we get killed by?’ ” he said Monday. “That’s definitely not the goal going in. We want to be balanced – always is our goal – especially in a situation that we were in.”

Shanahan said the numbers were skewed by what he called four two-minute drills – one that came at the end of the half and three more in the fourth quarter when the 49ers were down 10 points. The 49ers called no running plays in the fourth quarter. Shanahan said 28 of the 51 passes came in those situations.

“I know it was extremely unusual that we had 28 passes called and four two-minute drives,” he said. “Never been a part of that before.”

Heading into the season, Shanahan said the goal was to strike a balance between the run and pass. When he was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta last year, the Falcons threw on 56 percent of their plays. The 49ers this year are throwing 65 percent of the time.

Shanahan said that was largely due to playing from behind in most contests.

“I definitely want to be more balanced,” he said. “I want us to win a game however we can do that. The way we’ve been doing it hasn’t been working. Hopefully we can find a game that we can get out to some early leads and protect that a little bit more.”

Et cetera – Shanahan said tackle Garry Gilliam, tight end Cole Hikutini and safety Jaquiski Tartt would go on injured reserve. Gilliam and Hikutini suffered MCL sprains while Tartt broke his forearm. That gives the 49ers a league-leading 23 players who have gone on injured reserve this season. The team signed tight end Logan Paulsen, who has been on and off the roster all season, and veteran receiver Louis Murphy on Monday.

▪ Three rookies – receiver Trent Taylor, tight end George Kittle (ankle) and linebacker Elijah Lee (knee) – won’t play in the upcoming game against the New York Giants. Taylor broke a rib in the first half and didn’t play the rest of the game. Shanahan said the hope is that they’re all back after the team’s Nov. 19 bye.

▪ None of the three players involved in Sunday’s scuffle – the 49ers’ Carlos Hyde and the Cardinals’ Frostee Rucker and Haason Reddick – will be suspended, the NFL said. All could be fined later in the week.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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