The 49ers' plan coming into the year was simple, but had the potential to devolve into chaos if things didn't go according to plan.
Well, at 2-4 and mired in a four-game losing streak, Kyle Shanahan has to decide if he thinks Jimmy Garoppolo can right the ship and steer the 49ers to the playoffs, or if now is the time for the Trey Lance era to begin.
Former 49ers offensive lineman and current NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Joe Staley believes the situation has changed in San Francisco, and now might be the time to ride with the rookie.
"Coming into the year, I understood the game plan, from what the Niners were talking about," Staley told "Papa and Lund" on Monday. "This is a team that they expected to compete, they expected to be a playoff football team, and use it as a red-shirt year for Trey, and that development. And that's all predicated on the team's success and Jimmy playing well.
"Well, [Garoppolo's] not [playing well] right now. They're a 2-4 football team, and I don't know if they have a direction or even a chance, as it stands right now, to be that playoff team. So, for me, it's like, if this the point of the season where you say, 'Alright, we already made our choice that Trey's going to be the future of this franchise. We wanted to use it as a red-shirt year for him,' and I don't know if that's going to be the best case right now because there's not a spark on offense. There's not even consistency.
"From my point of view, I think they have to think long and hard about just going to Trey, using it, taking the lumps, knowing that he's going to be the future of this team," Staley continued. "You take the lumps right now, as opposed to someone who is eventually going to be gone, and then that way, you're building towards the future. And then when you get to 2022, it's not just starting over from scratch and then taking those lumps as they come."
While Staley believes now might be the time for the 49ers to focus on the future. Shanahan said Monday that Garoppolo would remain the starter for the 49ers' Week 8 game against the Chicago Bears.
"We didn't go into that game thinking that Jimmy was one bad game away from losing his job or anything like that," Shanahan said in a conference call with Bay Area reporters Monday.
"Jimmy didn't play as good as he could, which he knows that, and I know that. I think there were some pretty hard circumstances for him -- for both quarterbacks, considering some of the weather. But I definitely thought he could play better."
To Staley, Garoppolo has failed to produce when it matters the most and that has led to the offensive stagnation in San Francisco.
“A quarterback is judged based off of third downs — and situational football — when everybody in the building knows that he has to pass the football, the quarterback has to throw it,” Staley said. “Can you consistently convert?”
"The third-down conversion rate for the Niners has been absolutely atrocious and it doesn’t seem like they have any answers for that currently. I think the stats like six for their last 36 or something like that in the last three games. And if you’re not converting third downs — and yes, it goes to the receivers getting open — but largely, it’s the quarterback understanding where to go, how to manipulate defenses with their eyes and right now, Jimmy’s not getting the job done.”
On Sunday in the 49ers' loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Garoppolo went 16-for-27 for 181 yards, one touchdown pass, two interceptions and one lost fumble in a game that was played during a monsoon at Levi's Stadium.
Lance, who started the 49ers' Week 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals when Garoppolo was out with a calf injury, missed the loss to the Colts with a knee sprain. His status for Week 8 is unknown.
With 11 games remaining, the 49ers still have time to turn the 2021 season around. But they have been poorly coached, undisciplined and inconsistent to this point. One or two more losses and it will be time to turn their attention to 2022.