Jimmy Garoppolo is back in the spotlight as the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers after Trey Lance broke his ankle in Week 2. It means the 49ers have a proven winner under center, but it also means more scrutiny for a veteran passer who has limitations and detractors.
Fortunately for Garoppolo, he also has his fans. One of the believers is a Hall of Fame head coach with a Super Bowl win on his CV.
This coaching great is confident enough in Garoppolo to make a bold prediction about how the Niners’ offense will fare compared to how things were going with Lance.
Jimmy G Return to Have Immediate Impact
Tony Dungy expects an uptick in how the 49ers move the ball now Garoppolo is directing things again, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. To Dungy, it’s not a matter of whether the 49ers could be better with Garoppolo than Lance: “I think, will be — not just could be. I think they will be [better] in the short term.”
Aside from Garoppolo’s return, Dungy also pinpointed another comeback by a key member of San Francisco’s skill players: “I’d say Garoppolo playing and getting Kittle back, they’re going to be 25-percent better on offense in the next three weeks just with that happening.”
Having All-Pro tight end George Kittle back on the field will naturally make a huge difference for the 49ers. The offense simply doesn’t function the same way without Kittle’s sure hands and physical blocking, evidenced by the Niners’ 7-9 record when he isn’t on the field.
The seventh of those wins came against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 when Garoppolo needed to take the reins following Lance’s injury. Garoppolo played solid football, completing 13 of 21 passes for 154 yards and this touchdown to tight end Ross Dwelley:
Garoppolo’s stat line was modest, but he knew where to go with the ball and how to involve the playmakers at his disposal. Dungy, who rebuilt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the ’90s and later won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts during the 2006 season, thinks Garoppolo fits a time-tested and successful formula for the 49ers: “He can execute it. He’ll do fine with that. Now they got to get their backs healthy. San Francisco beats you down by running the football and pounding you on defense.”
There’s no doubting Garoppolo’s comfort level with head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He knows the system well and is enough of a willing game manager to make the run-heavy scheme work.
The 49ers’ preference for running the ball remains as strong as ever in 2022, per Akash Anavarathan of SB Nation’s Niners Nation:
Shanahan continues to lean on the ground game, but his offense also relies on a quarterback selectively making big plays through the air off of play action. It’s one area where Garoppolo remains ahead of Lance for now.
Passing Game Should Stay Consistent with Garoppolo
Consistency throwing the ball was the obvious risk to giving second-year pro Lance the keys to the kingdom. Lance needed to develop his ability to make quick reads and be accurate under pressure.
The problem for Shanahan was still trying to win while he waited on Lance’s development. A compromise of sorts was reached by Shanahan calling designed runs to take advantage of Lance’s dual-threat skills.
It was a cruel twist of irony when Lance suffered a season-ending injury while being tackled on one of those runs. It’s easy to accuse Shanahan of reckless play calling, but the coach had to find ways for his offense to be effective with the player 49ers traded three first-round picks to draft third overall in 2021 at the helm.
Shanahan’s job looked like a difficult balancing act after Lance began the season by connecting on just 13 of 28 passes during a shock 19-10 defeat to the rebuilding Chicago Bears. More running from the quarterback was always going to be the plan after a passing performance that shaky.
Garoppolo won’t be sent on designed runs, even though his mobility will be an asset for the bootleg passes Shanahan likes to call. Instead, Garoppolo will keep himself and the 49ers in risk-averse positions to win games.
It should yield short-term benefits, even though Dungy doesn’t think those gains will necessarily come at Lance’s expense: “[I’m] not talking about the long term and where Trey Lance might be down the road, but I just think their offense is going to look sharper here in the upcoming couple of weeks.”
Lance is still the starter in waiting, but Garoppolo’s ongoing presence in the starting lineup will remove some of the doubts that surfaced about this otherwise playoff-ready roster after Week 1.