Why Jimmy Garoppolo deserves the 49ers QB job over Trey Lance … for now

    San Francisco 49ers fans may be clambering for Trey Lance to start over Jimmy Garoppolo, but the current offense doesn't agree with that.

    Kyle Shanahan is doing the right thing, starting Jimmy Garoppolo over Trey Lance. There is no question that one quarterback has more talent than the other. However, talent alone does not necessitate playing time. At least, not in the San Francisco 49ers’ offense. Garoppolo is the right guy for the job right now. But that doesn’t mean he’ll finish the season as the 49ers starter.

    Why the 49ers chose Trey Lance over Jimmy Garoppolo

    The San Francisco 49ers won 13 games with Garoppolo in 2019. The last time he played a full season, the team went to the Super Bowl. Despite that, Shanahan and Co. decided it was time to eventually move on from the eight-year veteran.

    Garoppolo is excruciatingly average

    He is the epitome of a quarterback your team can win with but won’t win because of. That overthrown deep ball in Super Bowl LIV was just an extrapolation of the issues surrounding his game.

    According to Next Gen Stats, Garoppolo currently has a negative completion percentage over expectation (CPOE). His CPOE sits at -5.3%, as he’s completing 73.3% of his passes compared to the 78.6% that is expected. Different sites have different ways of calculating it. But even Ben Baldwin’s site, which excludes throwaways and spikes, has him sitting at a smooth 17th in the NFL.

    At his best in 2019, he was still outside of the top-10 in CPOE, EPA, and the composite of the two. He was and is by no means a bad quarterback, but Garoppolo isn’t propelling the 49ers.

    This is a throw NFL quarterbacks have to hit. However, Garoppolo struggles to place passes outside of the numbers, both to the intermediate and shorter areas of the field. Overall, his ball placement can be a struggle.

    But in San Francisco’s offense, it doesn’t have to be. Despite his issues, he’s fifth in EPA/play so far in 2021.

    Why Jimmy Garoppolo is the starting 49ers QB right now

    Even though, in a vacuum, Garoppolo seems replaceable, his value to the 49ers specifically explains why we probably won’t see Lance start in 2021.

    Ball handling has added importance in Shanahan’s offense

    Play-action and misdirections play massive parts in Shanahan’s offense. Garoppolo is incredibly convincing as a ball handler. He’s consistent in his efforts on both handoffs and play-action passes, consistently showing his back and really selling the fake before whipping his head around to start reading the defense.

    But it doesn’t end there.

    The 49ers run a lot of toss plays in the run game, and with that comes fake tosses. Garoppolo does a great job selling the toss, following through even with an extra step or two to try and influence the backside end, who is usually unblocked. He also excels in the screen game, creating confusion with how he uses his eyes, shoulders, and pump fakes.

    His pocket management is outstanding

    Garoppolo has only been sacked once so far through two games. That comes from a combination of scheme, offensive line play, receiver separation, and Garoppolo’s ability to slip away from pressure.

    Behind a good offensive line and the best left tackle in the game, he usually only has to worry about one rusher having a chance to get home, if that many. Garoppolo is not a great athlete, but he’s shown the ability to manipulate the pocket and deliver passes or scramble for a few yards.

    This isn’t a downfield passing attack. Garoppolo has only attempted 2 passes 20+ yards downfield. That means the offense can’t rely on chunk plays to score points. They get them because Deebo Samuel and George Kittle exist and are extremely difficult to tackle, but that’s not necessarily reliable.

    What the offense uses is a “forever forward” mindset. It’s THE reason why Garoppolo is and must continue to start over Lance. He’s avoiding negative plays, for now. Still, he always seems to make one of two hilariously boneheaded plays throughout a game. Whether it be fumbling a snap or throwing the ball to an invisible linebacker, it happens.

    It’s the one thing that could end his run as the 49ers’ starter.

    Will Lance eventually start in 2021?

    This is up to Garoppolo. If he continues to avoid negative plays offensively, it’s tough to see the 49ers struggling enough to need a new QB.

    He’s still a veteran. We know what we’re getting with him. We know that he can operate this particular offense well enough not to lose football games. And it’s not like he can’t make throws that impress, either.

    As we’ve seen with the rookie quarterbacks so far, the mental side of the game isn’t always built in a day. The above play is fantastic, and it all happened because Garoppolo is a veteran.

    He holds #49 outside the hash long enough to leave a window open over the middle. Eye manipulation is not something only veterans can accomplish. However, we saw Lance struggle pulling the trigger quickly in the preseason.

    Here, Garoppolo comes back left and is able to read the other linebacker’s leverage and deliver a pass before Samuel uncovers behind the defender. This is a fantastic anticipatory throw. Anticipation and placement are two of the biggest factors when explaining yards after the catch.

    Unless Garoppolo starts to take sacks and turn the ball over more often, it’s tough to see a situation where, in the best division in football, there is a natural point where Lance usurps him. Maybe if they had a late Bye Week, but there’s falls in Week 6.

    The only thing that could change that would be a few disastrous performances for Garoppolo against Green Bay, Seattle, and Arizona. If that happens, then maybe Lance starts coming out of the Bye Week.

    Hopefully, we keep seeing Lance in spurts because he brings something completely different for defenses to gameplan against.

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