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.”
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.”