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Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers: Why it hasn’t mattered who’s under center for the 49ers

Mullens’s turnovers haven’t been a surprise, and they aren’t anything new for Niners quarterbacks.

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It feels like we ask the same question every week. Which quarterback should start for the 49ers? We’re in this same situation each week as starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is still out with a high-ankle sprain, and Nick Mullens has made the same mistakes every week. The three quarterbacks who have thrown the ball this season have had the same issues since they’ve been under center: Turning the ball over.

Garoppolo has played 31 games and has 31 turnovers. Nick Mullens has played 26 games and has 26 turnovers. C.J. Beathard has appeared in five games and has five turnovers. I know it, you know it, and the front office knows it. The 49ers have a quarterback problem.

Mullens has 4,405 passing yards through his first 16 NFL starts. Andrew Luck threw for 4,374 yards in his first 16 starts. Without context, you’d think Mullens was a budding superstar. If you were to watch one quarter in any game this season, your mind would quickly change. This is why most volume stats are silly, as is giving Garoppolo credit for “leading” the Niners to the Super Bowl in 2019.

Jimmy was good in 2019, and that shouldn’t be lost in these discussions. The issue is he’s being elevated to a superstar by many due to the play of Mullens. Last season, Jimmy G’s average depth of throw was 6.3 yards, with 55% of his yards coming after the catch. Garoppolo’s sack percentage was 6.8%, with an interception rate of 2.7%. 2020 has been a different story. Garoppolo threw an interception 3.6% of the time, he was sacked 7.1% of the time, and his air yard percentage dipped to 35% in a small sample size.

Mullens interception rate this season is 3.7%, and his sack percentage is 5.5%. Mullens air yardage percentage is 48%, and his average depth of target is 6.3 yards. For those clamoring for C.J. Beathard, there’s a reason Shanahan has been slow to pull the trigger, despite Mullens’s obvious limitations.

Shanahan has preached that Mullens knows where to go with the ball. Let’s walk through C.J.’s drive. Beathard forces a pass to Brandon Aiyuk, who was well covered by the cornerback in the first play. On the second play, the 49ers run the route concept where the outside receivers run “return” routes. Kendrick Bourne comes open, but Beathard isn’t patient enough to let the route develop. He checks the ball down to Jerick McKinnon despite a clean pocket, and that lost one yard.

On 3rd & 11, Dallas ran a simulated pressure that confuses the best of quarterbacks. Beathard did a solid job on this play to beat the blitz and find McKinnon for a gain of 23. For as effective as that play was, throwing the ball three yards on 1st & 10 with 49 seconds to play was equally bad. Of course, we have to acknowledge the situation Beathard was thrown into. Fresh off the bench with no time to warm up at the end of the fourth quarter.

Nobody has ever questioned C.J.’s arm, as he squeezed a pass that was on a rope 20 yards down the field to Brandon Aiyuk, and, of course, the 60+ yard Hail Mary at the end of the game. It’s Beathard’s accuracy, and decision-making is why he’s been on the bench. Remember the throw before the Hail Mary? Beathard missed Jeff Wilson Jr. on a simple out route.

In a perfect world, Garoppolo would have been under center all season, and we’d all still love Mullens. That hasn’t been the case. With two games left, which quarterback should the 49ers start?


Who should start at QB in the final two games?

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    Josh Johnson
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