Here are five takeaways from the 49ers’ 24-15 victory over the Denver Broncos in their second preseason game, improving to 2-0 in the exhibition slate.
Garoppolo’s rough start
All eyes were going to be on the 49ers’ franchise quarterback after he went nearly 11 months between games.
It didn’t go well.
Jimmy Garoppolo played three series and had one completion: a screen pass to Matt Breida for no gain on his final throw.
His first four attempts were touched by Broncos defenders. Defensive tackle Shelby Harris batted two passes down, cornerback Isaac Yiadom intercepted a bad toss to Marquise Goodwin and De’Vante Bausby nearly had a pick-six.
Garoppolo seemed tentative and didn’t drive his throws by pushing off his back leg, which is notable because his ACL injury came on his left leg, which is exposed as he throws.
He was pressured by Bradley Chubb on the interception after there appeared to be a mixup between left tackle Joe Staley and guard Laken Tomlinson, which allowed Chubb to go unblocked. On another play, Garoppolo was pressured and threw off his back leg, which led to sailing a pass to open tight end Kaden Smith.
The stat line: 1 for 6, no yards, no touchdowns, an interception and a passer rating of 0.0. C.J. Beathard replaced Garoppolo on the fourth possession late in the first quarter.
Fortunately for San Francisco, there are just four days between the next exhibition game Saturday in Kansas City, where Garoppolo suffered the injury last September. It won’t take long to put his forgettable 2019 debut behind him.
Speed on offense
Watch this run from second-round pick Deebo Samuel, whom Kyle Shanahan liked for what he does with the ball in his hands.
The 49ers made it a 17-9 game the very next play following Samuel’s 45-yard run with Jeff Wilson Jr.’s one-yard run. It capped San Francisco’s second-straight touchdown drive that included an explosive play. The other, Raheem Mostert’s 30-yard touchdown run.
Mostert is likely to make the team because of what he does on special teams. But his knack for making big plays in the running game adds to his value on the roster, particularly with Jerick McKinnon in danger of missing time in the regular season while he comes back from his ACL injury.
Penalties show up again
The 49ers were able to sneak away with a win in the preseason opener despite getting penalized a ridiculous 18 times for 216 yards. Things were only slightly better Monday.
San Francisco was penalized six times for 40 yards in the first half, three that went against the defense leading to first downs, including back-to-back penalties on defensive lineman Kentavius Street (offsides) and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds (holding) that allowed the Broncos to hit a 52-yard field goal as the second quarter expired.
Offensively, Najee Toran, starting at right guard in place for the injured Mike Person (foot), was flagged for holding twice. The first negated a 7-yard run from Tevin Coleman and the second a 2-yard rush from Jeff Wilson Jr. Toran has a chance at making the 53-man roster as a reserve and he’s been given valuable reps because Joshua Garnett has been sidelined with a dislocated finger. Obviously the penalties aren’t going to help Toran’s case.
The 49ers finished with 13 penalties for 101 yards, which will continue to be a point of emphasis.
Offensive line struggles
Speaking of the offensive line, it was a night to forget for San Francisco. The struggles started with Staley against Chubb on Garoppolo’s interception.
Then there was sixth-round pick Justin Skule getting beaten by Chubb for a strip sack on C.J. Beathard (Skule was also flagged for a false start early in the third quarter). Toran moved to center in the second half and there was a mishandled snap by Nick Mullens midway through the fourth.
On the bright side, the 49ers ran the ball well (29 times for 185 yards, 6.4-yard average). But the starters did not play well for Garoppolo.
It’ll be important to get him a comfortable pocket the next against the Chiefs. It’s worth noting, of course, San Francisco was without starting center Weston Richburg (knee/quad), who’s still on the physically unable to perform list, and Mike Person, who left Friday’s practice in a walking boot with a foot injury.
The 49ers are hoping both players will be available Week 1. Monday’s game underscored their importance.
James makes his case
Richie James Jr. is right in the thick of a competitive battle at receiver and Monday’s performance did more to prove he’s worthy of a roster spot, whether it’s with San Francisco or another team.
He took his first kickoff return 48 yards to midfield to begin his night. He took his second 32 yards to the 34 and later added a 14-yard completion two plays before Raheem Mostert’s 30-yard touchdown run gave San Francisco the lead in the third quarter.
The 49ers might be without Trent Taylor early in the regular season, which could create an opportunity for James both as a slot receiver and return specialist. The coaching staff might prefer to have James handle kicks and punts to save Dante Pettis and Taylor from risking injury.
▪ Safety Jaquiski Tartt momentarily left the game in the first half after a strong initial performance. He was checked for a concussion and cleared to return, Shanahan said afterwards. Tartt had five tackles, two for loss and broke up a pass. Tartt missed 15 games the past two seasons with injuries.
▪ Good rebound performance from Kendrick Bourne after dropping a well-placed deep pass from C.J. Beathard. He had a 26-yard catch and run before scoring a touchdown from Nick Mullens on a fade route.
▪ Coleman’s 49ers’ debut was a positive one. He made his three carries count by going for 21 yards. That’s a 7.0 yard average.
▪ Punter Mitch Wishnowsky, the controversial fourth-round draft pick, is going to get a lot of love in the special teams meeting room this week.
Wishnowsky punted five times with a 48.6-yard average. The play above was his only kickoff that wasn’t a touchback.
▪ After both getting 17 passing attempts last week, the playing time wasn’t nearly as equal Monday for Mullens and Beathard. The stat line for Beathard: 5 of 11, 81 yards, 70.6 rating. San Francisco scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives with Beathard under center.
Mullens went 2-for-3 for 27 yards with the 1-yard touchdown to Bourne following Dontae Johnson’s interception deep in Broncos’ territory. It’s likely Mullens is the first one off the bench following Garoppolo on Saturday.
▪ Good performance for San Francisco’s defensive front. Coordinator Robert Saleh’s crew had six sacks, including 1.5 from Street. Mark Nzeocha had another on a third-down blitz. Safety Marcell Harris had one that knocked back up quarterback Drew Lock from the game. Jay Bromley was also credited with two in garbage time.
The Broncos averaged just 3.0 yards per play, which would qualify as a dominant 49ers defensive performance. But it’s the preseason and it’s far more likely the Broncos’ backups aren’t all that good. San Francisco out gained Denver, 278-215.
▪ Injury front: safety Adrian Colbert left the game with a hamstring injury after getting ejected a few snaps into the preseason opener for an illegal hit. Rookie cornerback Tim Harris had a groin injury, defensive end Damontre Moore had a thumb injury and undrafted rookie receiver Shawn Poindexter left the game with a knee injury.
This game was observed from the television broadcast.