Kyle’s note: Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t practicing on Thursday, and this was published as the news broke.
One major question looms for the 49ers as they prepare to take on the division-leading Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, as there is currently a great deal of uncertainty around who will start at quarterback for San Francisco this week.
In their week 4 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Jimmy Garoppolo did not play in the second half after suffering what's being reported as a calf injury, which leaves his status for week 5 up in the air currently.
Following the loss to Seattle, Garoppolo initially said he expected to miss multiple weeks due to the injury, but as the week has progressed, the timetable has shrunk, and there has been an increased optimism that Garoppolo might be able to play as soon as this weekend. I am here to tell you why I think that playing Garoppolo at anything less than 100%would be a major mistake for the 49ers, both in the short and long term.
Past performance isn’t always indicative of future production, but the fairly decent sample size of Garoppolo playing while injured cannot be ignored. Since suffering a major ankle injury in Week 2 of the 2020 season, Garoppolo has played in six games while being at less than 100%, and the biggest issue in those games was his inability to push the ball downfield.
Garoppolo’s stats throwing the ball 10+ yards downfield in those games
This includes every series beyond the first drive of the game in this past week's loss to the Seahawks — where the injury allegedly occurred on the first series of the day for Garoppolo and the offense.
As the game progressed, Garoppolo’s performance declined significantly, which is likely no coincidence when you consider the timing aligns almost identically to when the injury is said to have occurred.
Garropolo on the first drive :
5-5, 65 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions
Garoppolo the rest of the game :
9-18, 100 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception
Ultimately Kyle Shanahan is going to have to do what he believes is best for his team, and play the quarterback that he feels gives his team the best chance to win. However, if he decides to roll with a less than 100% Garoppolo, and the offense and/or Garoppolo himself struggles, the blame falls squarely on Shanahan. We’ve seen enough of what a hobbled Garoppolo looks like over the last two seasons, and this quickly becomes a “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” type scenario if it unfolds as it has in the past.
The last time the 49ers decided to rush Garoppolo back from an injury was Week 5 against Miami last season, and in that game Garoppolo played arguably the worst he ever has in his entire career, posting a stat line of:
Passer rating of 15.7
The issue is that last year the 49ers ran the ball much more effectively, which allowed them to move the ball fairly consistently without having to push the ball downfield as much, with how stagnant the offense has been in 2021 thus far, I’m not sure they will be awarded the same luxury.
The bottom line is we have enough data at our disposal that shows a hampered Garoppolo clearly limits the effectiveness of the offense as a whole, and given the struggles they have faced this season even when he was 100%, it seems futile to throw him out there this week and expect a different result than what we have seen in the same scenario in recent memory.
This isn’t about a Trey Lance vs Jimmy Garoppolo debate, nor is it about what is best for the long-term success of the franchise etc. This is about week 5 in a vacuum, and why I believe playing an injured Garoppolo would be a critical mistake, in a game that feels about as close to a “must-win” as you can get in this early stage of the season.
In my opinion, the best move is to play the rookie, find a way to utilize his dynamic running ability, and maybe there is a path to that dynamism opening up what has been a fairly pedestrian offense through the first four weeks of the season. We don’t know what Lance will look like with a week of preparation with the first-team offense, but we do know what a less than 100% Garoppolo looks like, and at this point, the blame falls on the head coach if he decides to do the same thing (playing an injured Garoppolo) and expect a different result.