San Francisco 49ers: How to get Brian Hoyer back on track vs. Colts

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 21: Brian Hoyer #2 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 21, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 21: Brian Hoyer #2 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 21, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer has been pretty disastrous over four games this season, but let’s look how he can get back on track in Week 5 versus the Indianapolis Colts.

It doesn’t appear as if San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s plan, to have veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer effectively run an offense, is working.

Through four weeks’ action, Hoyer ranks 30th in the NFL in both completion percentage (58.1) and passer rating (67.9). Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer is the lone player below Hoyer in both categories.

Aside from a moderately solid Week 3 performance against the Los Angeles Rams, Hoyer’s inability to effectively move the ball downfield and end drives with touchdowns is concerning.

And his numbers from each game reflect this:

Brian Hoyer 2017 Games Table
2017-09-101CARL 3-23243568.571930170.345.514.23
2017-09-172@SEAL 9-12152755.56990148.223.672.00
2017-09-213LARL 39-41233762.163322198.048.978.84
2017-10-014@ARIL 15-18244948.982340154.334.783.86

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/5/2017.

Hoyer has tossed an interception in each of the four games the Niners have played — ironic, as he didn’t throw a single interception on 200 passes with the Chicago Bears last season.

Still seeking their first win, the 49ers visit the 1-3 Indianapolis Colts in Week 5.

Considering the defensive abilities of each team San Francisco has faced thus far, it might be a refreshing for Hoyer and Co. to face off against a less-than-stellar defense.

So how do the Niners go about putting Hoyer into a position to succeed?

Establishing the Run to Set Up Play Action

If there is something Hoyer has done well a quarter of the way through 2017, it’s throw off play action.

The splits, courtesy of Pro Football Focus’ Jeff Deeney, explain it in pretty good detail:

Effective play-action passing needs to have a working running game. Otherwise opposing defenses won’t react appropriately, giving quarterbacks the chance to strike against defenders who bit on the run fake.

Hoyer threw 49 passes in Week 4 against the Arizona Cardinals, which isn’t exactly ideal for a team trying to establish the run. Running back Carlos Hyde had only 16 carries, by the way.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

But the problem for San Francisco was the multitude of 3rd-and-long plays, and the Niners threw on third down all but one time, per Niner Noise’s Rich Madrid.

Hoyer has been most effective this season on 3rd- or 4th-and-short this season, with his best passer rating in this category coming in at 102.7.

Why? Because play action works exceptionally well on short-yardage situations.

The Colts are averaging 4.0 yards per play on the ground, so the math is relatively simple to do. This average should set up enough 3rd-and-2 situations in which Hoyer should be able to effectively manage a play-action pass.

Better yet, Indianapolis is allowing opposing quarterbacks to post a net passer rating of 124.2 on plays needing three yards or less.

Quick Throws for Brian Hoyer in Short or Immediate Areas

Hoyer hasn’t been known as a deep-ball quarterback, despite seeing some flashes of this during training camp and the preseason.

The numbers reflect it, as PFF revealed Hoyer’s passer rating is a lowly 38.5 on passes 20 yards or more down the field.

Perhaps some of this is explained by another PFF analysis — time in the pocket. Deep plays typically take longer to develop, which means quarterbacks have to remain protected with their eyes downfield for a greater amount of time.

More from Niner Noise

Not surprisingly, Hoyer’s completion percentage is a mere 44 percent when he’s in the pocket for 2.5 seconds-plus. Less than 2.5 seconds, though, the completion rate jumps up to a respectable 65.3 percent.

Shanahan solves this by incorporating the short- and intermediate-passing games into his play-calling. And this is where quick slants, hook routes and screen passes can take the pressure off Hoyer to fit passes through tight windows down the field, instead relying on schemes and timing to get guys open.

As long as Hoyer doesn’t deliver the ball to the opposing middle linebacker, of course.

You can see the combination of short-yardage situations, play action and less time in the pocket on this Week 3 touchdown here:

The pieces fit.

Granted, the 49ers have to have a lot of other factors working well enough in Week 5. Pass protection is as key as establishing the run.

And it would help if Niners receivers didn’t continue contributing to the seemingly chronic drop problem.

Next: Exploring 49ers' options at quarterback in 2018

Regardless, San Francisco’s road contest against Indianapolis does provide an opportunity for Hoyer to start turning his season around.