San Francisco 49ers

Not rocket science: How the 49ers are trying to improve turnover issues

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes sacks 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard during the first half in Santa Clara on Sunday.
Arizona Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes sacks 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard during the first half in Santa Clara on Sunday. AP

There’s no cleansing serum that will cure the 49ers’ turnover issues.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard must improve the minutiae of his game, he said, to keep San Francisco’s offense from making the back-breaking mistakes that led to the embarrassing loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s just little stuff. It’s a game of inches,” Beathard said Wednesday.

The second-year signal caller was responsible for four of his team’s five turnovers against previously winless Arizona, costing the 49ers dearly in their third-straight defeat. Beathard threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles in the pocket, including one that was returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The first fumble came when star pass rusher Chandler Jones beat Joe Staley off the edge and knocked the ball from Beathard’s hands early in the third quarter. “(If) I step up in the pocket two inches more, the ball doesn’t get taken out of my hand,” he said.

Beathard doesn’t deserve all the blame for his first-half interception. His pass down the middle to Pierre Garçon was dropped and batted in the air before getting snagged by safety Tre Boston. Beathard’s late pick to Bene’ Benwikere came on a desperate fourth-and-19 heave after the game had been decided.

“It’s nothing that can’t be fixed,” said Beathard.

Taking care of the ball will be a priority heading into Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers, who have arguably the league’s best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. The former league MVP would love to get extra chances against San Francisco’s 29th-ranked scoring defense.

The 49ers have the NFL’s worst turnover differential (minus-8) and are tied for the league’s worst record (1-4). Beathard will make his eighth career start and has 10 interceptions to eight touchdown passes.

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“We’ve got to protect the ball better,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.

But it’s not just up to Beathard. Shanahan noted that while his quarterback needs to be more aware of his surroundings when dropping back to pass, his receivers need to get open quicker, the protection from the offensive needs to be more stout and Shanahan could dial up better plays to help Beathard get rid of the ball faster.

“A little bit of everything, but we’re very well aware that our five turnovers last week cost us the game,” said Shanahan. “... We’ve got to get that fixed. We’ve also got to get our hands on the ball a little more, too, to help us.”

The 49ers have a league-low three takeaways. The Packers (2-2-1) might give San Francisco some chances. They had three giveaways in their loss to the Detroit Lions last week, including two lost fumbles from Rodgers.

“Turnovers, both ways, taking them away and giving them away is a focus for us,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “We have not played to the standard that we’ve set over the 13 years. So that’s a focus for us as a football team.”

The Packers have used their first seven draft picks combined over the last two years on defense -- and that focus is yielding results. They enter Monday’s game with the league’s fourth-ranked defense, allowing 314 yards per game. They also rank fifth with 16 sacks. The 49ers, conversely, are tied for 24th with nine sacks.

Said Shanahan: “They’ve got corners who can cover. They’ve got safeties who can cover and the five guys that they have on the line of scrimmage are as good as any five that we’ve played this year. They can stop the run very well.”

The good news for San Francisco is the expected return of receiver Marquise Goodwin, who has missed most of the season with a deep thigh bruise and hamstring injury. The prolonged absence was compounded when his replacement, rookie Dante Pettis, suffered a knee injury Week 4 against the Los Angeles Chargers during a punt return.

The two injuries have forced San Francisco to rely on the unproven trio of Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden Jr. and Richie James, two rookie free agents in 2017 and a seventh-round draft choice last spring.

“Defenses definitely have to game plan for having a guy like Marquise in there,” Beathard said. “It changes your offense a little bit and what you want to do as a scheme, for sure. So, it’ll be nice to have him back this week.”

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