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Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan must find rhythm in Niners’ offense

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer

Discombobulated. Out of sync. Disconnected. 

That’s how the San Francisco 49ers‘ offense looked and played in an 11-10 road loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.

San Francisco turned the ball over three times. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo committed a Dan Orlovsky, getting called for a safety when he drifted out of the end zone to avoid pressure from Broncos defensive lineman Mike Purcell. Had Garoppolo not stepped out, his errant pass intended for running back Jeff Wilson Jr. would have been picked off and returned for a score by edge rusher Bradley Chubb.

Even worse, Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams suffered a high-ankle sprain on the play and could be out four-to-six weeks, according to San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan. 

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The Niners finished 1-of-10 on third downs and scored just 10 points in the embarrassing performance. Garoppolo managed just 76 passing yards in the second half. He was sacked four times. 

“I thought we just made way too many mistakes,” Shanahan said. “We had our opportunities in the first half, where I thought we should have been up a lot more than we were. We missed on those. We came back in the second half and the defense kept it going. The offense had a chance early. We started out with the fumbled snap and we never got it going after that.” 

Added tight end George Kittle: “We didn’t execute. We didn’t do anything on third down. We had three turnovers and a safety. It’s tough to win football games [like that].” 

Just a week earlier, the Niners had celebrated the return of Garoppolo as the sparkplug of the offense after second-year pro Trey Lance struggled and then suffered a season-ending broken ankle against the Seattle Seahawks.

After coming in as a backup and playing well against a Seattle defense that has struggled so far this season, Garoppolo faced a talented Denver defense that had a week to prepare for him.

“We weren’t in a rhythm at all in the second half,” Garoppolo said. “You could feel it. You could see it. We were talking about (it) on the sideline. I was thinking about it. This was my first week with these guys, and I just got to get into a rhythm with them.” 

Garoppolo later said the offense was in a good rhythm last year, and that the Niners must get back to that. And that means the 30-year-old quarterback needs to get back to where he once was.

As a result of offseason shoulder surgery, Garoppolo did not participate in organized team activities or training camp, working on a side field while Shanahan attempted to speed up Lance’s development. 

“My arm is feeling it right now,” Garoppolo said. “It’s different. You try to do all the practice and preparation on the sideline, being the No. 2. And then you just get tossed into it. I didn’t go through OTAs and training camp. 

“I’m not trying to make excuses or anything, but I’ve just got to get into game shape and get rolling now.” 

Garoppolo must do it quickly, with the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams coming to town for a nationally televised Monday Night Football game. He can take some solace in his 6-1 record against L.A. However, the Rams won the most recent matchup, a 20-17 victory in last season’s NFC Championship Game.

With Garoppolo taking over for Lance, Shanahan and the Niners must get back to what made Garoppolo successful during his six seasons as the team’s starter — play fast, run the football and take play-action shots down the middle of the field.

Per Next Gen Stats, Garoppolo was the only quarterback last season to average over 10 yards per attempt (10.5) on play-action passes. He also had 874 yards after catch on passes over the middle of the field in 2021, No. 4 in the league.

Last week, Garoppolo started the game 4-of-5 for 45 yards and a touchdown targeting in-breaking routes. Going back to the start of last season, Garoppolo targets in-breaking routes on 48% of his pass attempts. No other signal-caller is over 38%. 

Shanahan is certainly aware of Garoppolo’s strengths and abilities in specific situations; it’s just a matter of getting his quarterback and offense on the same page this week. 

“You have to focus on everything,” Shanahan said. “And that’s what we do each week. First down, second down, third down, cadence, motions, getting lined up, executing the plays, beating man coverage — all those types of things go into it. 

“That’s why there’s so much more to it than what the eye might see, but we have to get a lot of stuff cleaned up.”

The Niners have until Monday, Oct. 3 at 8:15 p.m. ET.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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