Jimmy Garoppolo hadn’t played a football game in 11 months. In Week 2 of the preseason, it showed.
The 49ers franchise quarterback looked lost in his return to the field, completing just one-of-six throws for zero yards and an interception. He also very nearly had another ball picked off and taken back for a touchdown. It was tough to watch and, frankly, everything just looked a little too fast for Garoppolo.
While it’s easy to be concerned and start to speculate, the truth is that any time a player misses close to a year, it’s inevitable that there will be some rust. Odds are Garoppolo is just working through that now, and will be fine at some point. The only issue would be no one can really say for sure when that point will occur.
For the 49ers, that’s a problem. The reason it’s so concerning is that the team needs to start fast in its third season with Kyle Shanahan as head coach. San Francisco has won exactly one game before November 1st under Shanahan, going a combined 1-15 the past two seasons in the months of September and October. After two years of seeing the Niners fall completely out of playoff contention before Halloween, it’s imperative that the team reverses its fortunes in 2019.
A healthy and fully functioning Garoppolo will go a long way in making that happen. The San Francisco offense is just different when he’s behind center, which is evident in the numbers. Since 2017, the 49ers are 6-2 with Garoppolo starting, and 4-20 with anyone else. Shanahan’s offense averages 27.1 points per game with Garoppolo behind center and 19 with the combination of Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.
Garoppolo being sharp early will also help the team weather going on the road four times in its first six games. The 49ers have to stay afloat here, because the end of the season has a brutal stretch that will be a true test of where they are as a franchise. In Weeks 12-17, San Francisco is will have to face the Packers (home), Ravens (away), Saints (away), Falcons (home), Rams (home), and Seahawks (away). That’s six playoff caliber teams in a row.
It’s also important to note that as much as the 49ers are depending on Garoppolo, they are also counting on the offensive line to protect him and give him enough time. That didn’t happen in Week 2 of the preseason, as the line was dominated by the Broncos pass rush. While the unit was without starting center Weston Richburg and starting guard Mike Person, it still shows how little depth is actually there.
The first team offense will get another chance at a rehearsal in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs, before all major pieces are put on ice until the start of the season. A strong showing, or even a somewhat competent one, will go a long way in calming some of the nerves that are on edge after a rough start.