5 takeaways: San Francisco 49ers preseason vs. Denver Broncos
Kyle Shanahan’s confidence in his franchise quarterback isn’t waning after Jimmy Garoppolo played poorly in his first game action in nearly 11 months.
“The whole offense didn’t really get going,” Shanahan told reporters in Denver on Monday after Garoppolo completed just 1 of 6 passes with an interception in his 2019 preseason debut.
“Anytime you can’t get an offensive rhythm, everyone looks that way. We didn’t get anyone in rhythm. I wish we could have gotten him in a rhythm.”
After playing well for most of 49ers training camp, save for a five-interception practice last week, Garoppolo looked like a quarterback that hasn’t played in a game since last September because of a career-altering left ACL tear.
Broncos defenders got hands on Garoppolo’s first four passes, including an interception to cornerback Isaac Yiadom on his second attempt in which defensive end Bradley Chubb went unblocked to pressure Garoppolo as he threw. San Francisco’s only first down with Garoppolo in the game came after the first snap, when Tevin Coleman ran for 12 yards.
Garoppolo played three series and his only completion was a screen pass to running back Matt Breida behind the line of scrimmage that went for no gain. And he got lucky when defensive back De’Vante Bausby dropped a potential pick-six.
Garoppolo appeared tentative and didn’t make good throws in the face of pressure like he did before the injury. As was the case in many of his practice interceptions, Garoppolo too often threw off his back foot instead of driving his throws to his target. He also didn’t get much help from his offensive line that was without starting center Weston Richburg (knee/quad) and right guard Mike Person (foot) who left the joint practice with Denver on Friday in a walking boot.
The 49ers are hoping Garoppolo can get rid of those cobwebs and return to the player that earned a five-year, $137.5 million contract on the strength of his undefeated five-game stretch as the starter to end 2017.
“It’s something that I haven’t done in a year obviously, so I’ve got to knock the rust off and everything,” Garoppolo said. “Thankfully we have a short a week this week so we can bounce back quickly, but it’s the first step of getting back into it.”
San Francisco was given an odd preseason schedule that includes a trip to play Kansas City, where Garoppolo suffered his injury, on Saturday for the third preseason game. The slates wraps with a Thursday game against the Chargers in Levi’s Stadium in which Garoppolo is unlikely to play. That leaves the Chiefs game as Garoppolo’s final live-action tuneup before the regular season begins in Tampa Bay Sept. 8.
After missing so much time, the goal will be to get Garoppolo comfortable to avoid performances like Monday’s when the games count.
“For a quarterback more than anything, your rhythm is off,” Shanahan said. “You need to be in there a lot of snaps where you can feel the rush and you have the timing and speed of the game with the coverages, with the receivers. You can simulate that only in practices but you’re still never going to allow anyone to hit you.
“It’s just getting back there and getting comfortable. Some guys don’t come back from (injury) as well. Jimmy’s been great. He’s come back and he hasn’t had any setbacks and he’s good to go. But Jimmy hasn’t played a lot of football this last year so it’s about getting him reps and putting him in different situations and letting him play as much as possible but you can’t keep all your other guys out there as much as possible too so we’re having to deal with that as we go and have him ready for week one.”
The argument against giving Garoppolo his lucrative contract was his small sample size. Garoppolo has just 361 pass attempts in five NFL seasons. Twenty-seven quarterbacks had more in 2018 alone. Garoppolo never started more than five games in a season, though Shanahan said he’s seen enough to know Garoppolo could get the 49ers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“He’s had a year off (from) football, and before that he only played about eight games total,” Shanahan said. “The more he can play, the better. I wish we could have kept him out there longer today but you risk everyone else too, so I had to get those guys out of there.”
The quick turnaround before the next game means Garoppolo won’t have much time to dwell on his rough debut.
“Obviously I was a little frustrated, but that’s the NFL,” Garoppolo said. “Unfortunately, we don’t get to play the whole game right now, so I only get so many plays. You wish you could be out there for more so we could bounce back. But it is what it is. It’s preseason right now, so we just have to take it in stride.”
The 49ers won Monday’s game, 24-15, while rushing for 185 yards and getting two touchdowns on the ground from running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.
C.J. Beathard replaced Garoppolo after three series and led three consecutive scoring drives between the second and third quarters. Nick Mullens entered the game in the fourth quarter and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kendrick Bourne. San Francisco’s quarterbacks combined to complete just 8 of 20 passes for 108 yards on the night.