Where Do the 49ers Go After Jimmy Garoppolo? NFL Coaches & Execs Weigh In

Brock Purdy 49ers

Getty San Francisco 49ers QB Brock Purdy.

Welcome to Heavy In The Trenches, a weekly Wednesday column by Heavy’s NFL insider Matt Lombardo, bringing you insight on the latest storylines and rumblings around the league. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLombardoNFL.

Potential disaster has once again struck the San Francisco 49ers.

In Sunday’s Week 13 matchup in Santa Clara, California against the Miami Dolphins, Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season when Dolphins edge rusher Jaelen Phillips’ knee landed awkwardly on Garoppolo’s foot as he sacked the 49ers’ quarterback.

Garoppolo’s season-ending broken foot comes 11 weeks after second-year signal caller Trey Lance was lost for the season with a broken ankle in the 49ers’ second game of the 2022 campaign. Enter Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant no more.

Purdy came off the bench and on in relief of Garoppolo, completing 25-of-37 passes for 210 yards with 2 touchdowns to 1 interception, shepherding the 49ers’ offense to a 33-17 victory, driven primarily by coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ defensive dominance.

“It will be interesting to see how Purdy plays this week,” an NFC quarterbacks coach told Heavy, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about another team. “I’ve always believed it’s easier to just come off the bench when you don’t know when you are going to play, than having a full week to think about it mentally and get nervous about the opportunity.”

Prior to Sunday, everything about the 49ers was firing on all cylinders. Ryans’ defense is perched atop the NFL. General manager John Lynch has built a juggernaut of a supporting cast, seamlessly fitting the puzzle pieces together as if they were made for coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. And, maybe most importantly, Garoppolo seemed to graduate from game manager to game-decider at quarterback.

San Francisco, prior to Garoppolo’s injury, was a viable Super Bowl contender in the NFC, perhaps the biggest threat to the 11-1 Philadelphia Eagles’ second Super Sunday appearance since 2017.

So, where do the 49ers go from here? How much does Shannahan’s offense need to change? Heavy spoke to several current NFL coaches, scouts, and analysts to get a sense for what to expect from Purdy and how much the offense needs to adapt with him behind center.

“Brock has less mobility to operate the boot game,” an AFC offensive coach told Heavy. “His arm is much less than Jimmy’s to attack the field deep and sideline to sideline, and defenses will now be able to sit a little tighter on their passing game.”

Lynch has built a Ferrari for Shanahan with the likes of Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle as the engine that makes the whole thing go, behind an offensive line that’s anchored by one of the premier tackles in football, Trent Williams.

Now, San Francisco is down to its third quarterback, tasked with carrying the weight of Super Bowl expectations on what some believe to be plenty capable shoulders.

“Nothing changed about the offense on Sunday against Miami,” NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger told Heavy. “Brock had no fear of throwing the ball into the middle of the field.

“It seemed they really emphasized running the ball, which they need to do. It’s not an easy offense to operate; it has lots of movement, lots of motion, and they space the field really well. The biggest thing for Brock is to not try to do too much.”

Still, it’s difficult to envision Shanahan not needing to go to the drawing board to scale back the offense ahead of a Week 14 showdown against Todd Bowles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ swarming defense.

“That offense has to change,” an AFC scout told Heavy. “Just because of the unknown at quarterback, it remains to what extent they actually make adjustments, though. It may mean they’ll use more gadget plays with McCaffrey and Deebo running the ball more. Or, they’ll implement a more controlled passing game.”

Prior to being chosen as the last player selected in the 2022 NFL draft, Purdy completed 67.7% of his passes for 12,170 yards with 81 touchdowns to 33 interceptions as a three-year starter at Iowa State.

“I liked him a lot coming out of college,” the coach said. “He just didn’t have a great arm. But, all the intangibles are there.”

Matt Lombardo Column

Week 14 NFL Power Rankings

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-1)

2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-4)

3. Buffalo Bills (9-3)

4. Dallas Cowboys (9-3)

5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)

6. Minnesota Vikings (10-2)

7. San Francisco 49ers (8-4)

8. Miami Dolphins (8-4)

9. Seattle Seahawks (7-5)

10. New York Jets (7-5)

The Matt Lombardo Show

Quote of the Week: Bill Belichick on DeAndre Hopkins

“He’s got tremendous ball skills, he catches everything, great hands. He’s never covered — even if he’s covered, there’s a place the ball can be that he can get it, still make the catch. … He’s a smart football player, very savvy. His ball skills are at the very elite level with guys I’ve seen in this league. He’s up there with whoever the top guys are. Cris Carters of the world and guys like that. He’s every bit as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against.” New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins

Certainly high praise for the Arizona Cardinals star receiver, from the greatest NFL head coach of all time.

Also, Hopkins presents a significant test for a Patriots defense that enters Sunday’s matchup allowing 311.8 yards per game, albeit the seventh-fewest in the NFL. Hopkins arrives into Week 14 having caught 49 passes for 574 yards and 3 touchdowns, as quarterback Kyler Murray has posted a whopping 113.9 passer rating on his 63 targets.

Hopkins is the latest superstar in an elite line of receivers the Patriots have faced in recent weeks, after Stefon Diggs caught 7 passes for 92 yards and 1 touchdown in Week 13, Justin Jefferson going off for 9 receptions for 139 yards with 1 touchdown in Week 12.

Limiting Hopkins will be critical to the Patriots moving past the Cardinals in Week 14 and keeping quickly fading postseason hopes alive.

Final Thought

The Tennessee Titans’ decision to fire general manager Jon Robinson on Tuesday, December 6 makes little sense and feels very reactionary to Sunday’s blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

In that game, A.J. Brown had a career-defining performance, catching 8 passes for 119 yards with a pair of touchdowns, against the team that traded him on draft night in exchange for a first-round and third-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

Certainly, Robinson shipping Brown up to Philadelphia rather than signing him to a long-term extension and watching the star wide receiver burn the team that drafted him stings, but was it damaging enough to pull the plug on the general manager on December 6?

Tennessee has certainly seemed to have a built-in AFC Divisional Round ceiling after reaching the AFC Championship Game only once, in 2019. However, the Titans are well on their way to winning a third consecutive AFC East crown and have made the postseason in four of the past five seasons.

So, what gives?

“You have to wonder if there was a power struggle between people in that building over who wanted A.J. Brown, and who wanted him traded,” former Titans wide receiver Chris Sanders told Heavy.

There is certainly the possibility that the decision to move off Brown was not a unanimous one in Tennessee, which would certainly explain the timing of Robinson’s dismissal. Especially if Amy Adams Strunk were embarrassed to the point of firing Robinson by Brown’s game that drew comparisons to Hall of Famer Terrell Owens, by some inside the league.

Through his tenure, Robinson has found elite talent in the NFL Draft, such as All-Pro running back Derrick Henry in Round 2, safety Kevin Byard in Round 3, Harold Landry in Round 2, Brown, among others chosen after Round 1.

But, colossal first-round whiffs like Isaiah Wilson and Caleb Farley combined with terribly disappointing signings like gambling on wide receiver Julio Jones were all wasted money and wasted opportunities. Those all happened before trading Brown blew up in Robinson and the Titans’ face.

In the end, the Titans have had a championship-caliber head coach in Mike Vrabel, but have struggled mightily when it comes to personnel and giving Vrabel the pieces needed to crack through the glass ceiling into a Super Bowl berth.

That’s a brutal combination for a franchise, and the Titans seemingly are taking a step to rectify the situation. Even if the timing, at 7-5 and in the division’s driver’s seat, seems overly reactionary.

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