Gunslinger Jimmy Garoppolo is getting the job done for unbeaten 49ers

Gunslinger Jimmy Garoppolo is getting the job done for unbeaten 49ers

SANTA CLARA – Jimmy Garoppolo on Sunday will complete his first full season as an NFL starter.

Actually, the 49ers quarterback is nearing the midpoint of his sixth year in the NFL. But as far as actual experience, he will take the field Sunday against Washington as a starter for only the 16th time in his career.

By most measures, Garoppolo’s return to action this season after missing the final 13 games of 2018 with a torn ACL has been a success. The 49ers are 5-0, atop the NFC West, and Garoppolo has taken every snap of the season.

The game Sunday will mark his sixth consecutive start -- the most of Garoppolo’s career.

He ranks fourth in the league with a 69.9 completion percentage. Garoppolo is seventh in the league with an average of 8.0 yards per pass attempt. He is 14th in the NFL among passers with 100 or more attempts with a 95.2 passer rating.

Also, clearly, Garoppolo is not a finished product in coach Kyle Shanahan’s system.

Shanahan said it has been difficult for the passing game to find a rhythm because of the nature of the games in which the 49ers have played. Their defense has been stout, and their running game has mostly been very productive and reliable, which means the passing game has been more conservative.

“Sometimes it can be tough for a quarterback when we’re managing the game a lot with our defense, when they get us to some leads and the way they’re playing,” Shanahan said. “There come times in certain games where you feel the only chance for the other team to win is if we turn it over, so you try to get in those situations where you want to eliminate the possibilities of that.

“But it can also get frustrating because as a quarterback, receivers, or even calling plays for passing, you’d like more than just one opportunity, not just third down, to get in a little bit of rhythm. He doesn’t get that all the time, and when he has, I think he’s been pretty good.”

The 49ers are improved on third downs, converting 46 percent of their opportunities. (Last season, they had a 38-percent success rate.) Garoppolo ranks third in the league with a success rate of converting 48.7 percent on his third-down pass attempts.

Where Garoppolo can certainly get better is at taking care of the ball. He has thrown five interceptions in five games, two of which were deflected off the hands of intended targets against Pittsburgh. Garoppolo threw a pick-six in the opener at Tampa Bay and was intercepted in the end zone on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.

Shanahan was upset there was not a penalty called on Rams safety John Johnson for defensive holding against George Kittle, the intended target.

Garoppolo is not shy about throwing into coverage and giving his receivers the opportunity to get the ball. Shanahan said he welcomes the thought of his quarterback being a gunslinger ... to a certain point.

“Yes and no,” Shanahan said. “I like a guy who naturally is that way. I’d like to say I’m naturally that way. I want a guy who’s not scared to make the big play and who’s going to put it more on his shoulders and not always try to play it safe.

“But you’ve also got to adjust your team, too. The No. 1 thing is how do we win this game? And there’s so many different ways to win football games. We’ve found a way of doing it in all five of ours and all five have been different.”

[RELATED: Four Jimmy G throws that show how easily 49ers can improve]

Although Shanahan did not place much blame on Garoppolo for the interception against the Rams, he did fault him for not taking care of the ball better on an Aaron Donald strip-sack in the fourth quarter. With the 49ers holding a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, a giveaway was the last thing they wanted at that point.

“You are responsible for that ball and you’ve got the whole team counting on you,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes we’re counting on you to give us a chance to win and sometimes we’ve got to count on you to not give the other team a chance.”

Five 49ers to watch: Jimmy Garoppolo needs to do more


Five 49ers to watch: Jimmy Garoppolo needs to do more

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers take the field on Sunday looking to rebound from a loss for the first time this season.

The 49ers (8-1) still lead the NFC West by a half-game over the Seattle Seahawks, who snapped San Francisco's wining streak with a 27-24 victory in overtime on Monday night.

Now, the 49ers will face the Arizona Cardinals for the second time in three weeks.

The clubs met on Oct. 31, a game in which the 49ers hold on for a 28-25 victory over the Cardinals. Here are five key players for the 49ers in this Week 11 matchup:

5. LT Justin Skule

The sixth-round draft pick is back in the starting lineup after veteran left tackle Joe Staley underwent surgery to repair a dislocated and fractured finger. Skule started six games earlier this season in place of Staley before he was inactive on Monday night against the Seahawks.

Skule surrendered four sacks and 13 total pressures in his six starts, and he will go up against one of the more difficult assignments on the schedule – a return matchup against Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones.

Jones has registered double-digit sacks in five consecutive seasons, including this year with 11.5. Jones and Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett are tied for the lead in the NFL.

Coach Kyle Shanahan will do all he can to take the heat off Skule, but there will be plenty of instances in which he must be able to hold up one-on-one against one of the best in the league.

4. SS Jaquiski Tartt

The 49ers saw what worked for the Cardinals in Week 9, and you can be sure the formula will remain mostly the same on Sunday.

Arizona’s offensive game plan called for a heavy dose of running back Kenyan Drake, both as a runner and pass catcher. Drake had 15 rushing attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown. He also caught all four of his pass targets for 52 yards.

Tartt will have major responsibilities in both areas. He will play in the box on the early downs, where he can be the eighth defender against the run. He must also quickly diagnose the Cardinals’ screen game and keep those plays to a minimum.

The 49ers’ pass rush was held mostly at bay against the Cardinals because coach Kliff Kingsbury designed a game plan that called for quarterback Kyler Murray to take short drops and deliver the ball quickly. Tartt might have an opportunity to jump some of those shallow routes.

3. WR Deebo Samuel

The 49ers have not been able to find consistency at wide receiver, aside from newly acquired Emmanuel Sanders. But Sanders is questionable for Sunday with a ribs injury. If he plays, he might not be at 100 percent.

Samuel is showing signs of being a trusted target for Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie.

Samuel, a second-round draft pick from South Carolina, has 30 catches for 339 yards and one touchdown. He had a strong showing on Monday night, but had a bad drop on a play that he might’ve been able to turn into a long touchdown.

With the 49ers not finding reliable answers with Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, in particular, they will need more and more production from Samuel.

2. LB Fred Warner

The season-ending injury to linebacker Kwon Alexander left a large void in the middle of the 49ers’ defense.

Fred Warner did a good job of compensating for the loss of Alexander, who proved to be a solid playmaker and an invaluable member of the team for the energy he brings to the defense. On Monday, Warner did it all.

Warner registered 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in the overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He was disappointed in his own play on Oct. 31 when he missed two tackles and made some assignment errors in the first meeting against the Cardinals.

The next step for Warner is becoming a reliable player every game.

"He had a very good game and now it goes back to consistency being the truest measure of performance,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He’s got to go stack it up and do it again.”

1. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo cannot do it all by himself, but he’s going to have to do more than usual.

Garoppolo had his best game on Oct. 31 against the Cardinals. He threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns in the 49ers’ 28-25 victory in Glendale, Arizona

Then, he followed that up with a stinker against the Seattle Seahawks. To be sure, Garoppolo did no receive much support from his teammates on offense. The pass protection was problematic, and the receivers had plenty of difficulty holding onto the ball.

But Garoppolo was also off the mark on many of the throws in which his receivers should have come up with catches. He was also helped out by Seattle’s defense, which did not hold onto a would-be interception or two.

The 49ers do not figure to have tight end George Kittle available, and Emmanuel Sanders’ availability might not be known until Sunday morning. Garoppolo will have to show trust in the team’s other target, and they have to hold up their end of the bargain, too.

Steve Young gives take on Kyle Shanahan's overtime strategy vs. Seahawks

Steve Young gives take on Kyle Shanahan's overtime strategy vs. Seahawks

Hindsight is always 20/20.

Kyle Shanahan knows that, but that didn't stop the critics for coming after his play-calling after the 49ers' 27-24 overtime loss to the Seahawks at Levi's Stadium in Week 9. 

During the overtime period, Shanahan elected not to go for fourth-and-1 from the Seahawks' 29-yard line, opting instead to trot out rookie kicked Chase McLaughlin for a 47-yard attempt. The kick never had a shot and the Seahawks had life. But the 49ers' defense stood tall and forced a punt, giving quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo the ball back with 1:50 to go.

Shanahan, always the aggressor, opted to throw the ball three times -- all of which were incomplete -- burning only 17 seconds off the clock before punting the ball back the Seahawks. Quarterback Russell Wilson marched Seattle into field-goal range and Jason Myers drilled the kick to give the Niners their first loss.

Fans were critical of Shanahan for not running the ball, and giving the Seahawks time to win the game. Cornerback Richard Sherman doesn't have time for "armchair coaches" who want to play for ties. Niners legend Steve Young wants to remind fans that Shanahan always has been an aggressive coach -- that's part of the reason the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI -- so fans can't all of a sudden expect something different.

"Remember, Kyle Shanahan in many ways, the Super Bowl got away from the whole team, but him especially, because he’s so aggressive,” Young told KNBR. “And when we signed him that’s what you get. Don’t all of the sudden go, ‘aw I wish that he would’ve played for the tie.'

"I'm just saying that we signed a guy that goes for broke," Young continued before pivoting to the fourth-and-1 decision. "To your other point, why didn't you go for it on fourth and a half yard? I was sitting there and this young kid shows up and splits three right down the middle. You couldn't pick a side on any of the kicks. Right down the middle. To win the game, you are so -- it's gone back and forth. You'd won it three times, you'd lost it three times, you just want to end it. I get it."

While Young understands the decisions, he would have gone for it on fourth-and-1 and would have at least run the ball once on the final possession.

"I think I would’ve gone for the half yard. I think. That’s what I felt, that was my instinct," Young said. “I would like them to have 35 less seconds if we have to hand them the ball back. To hand them the ball back with having only taking 22 or whatever it was off -- you would never repeat that. You would never say, 'There's 1:27 at the end of overtime, I'm not going to hand it back with 1:05.' That's not part of the plan."

[RELATED: Warner does it all for 49ers' defense in Kwon's absence]

In the end, Shanahan's decisions backfired, but if McLaughlin makes the kick like he did his first three on the night then the conversation is totally different.

Shanahan is one of the NFL's best offensive minds, and the 49ers love his aggressiveness when calling plays. Sometimes things just don't break your way.