SANTA CLARA — The 49ers have been a revelation since Jimmy Garoppolo was named starting quarterback. The Niners are 2-0 and trending in the right direction for the first time in years despite missing several key contributors to season-ending injuries. No team has placed more players on the injured reserve, yet Kyle Shanahan’s group is thriving in the part of the season when the deepest teams pull ahead.
A great deal of that is due to Garoppolo’s emergence as a franchise quarterback. Shanahan said it’s not so simple to credit the turnaround on one person alone, but it isn’t a fluke that it coincided with Garoppolo’s arrival.
“We all played better versus Chicago and yesterday against Houston. I think that’s not a coincidence that leads to quarterback play also,” Shanahan said.
But, this isn’t a complete team yet. There are still holes on the roster that turned into painful moments for Garoppolo on Sunday. He was sacked twice and hit several more times.
Shanahan said he had a feeling it was going to be tougher against the Texans than Garoppolo’s debut in Chicago — and that it’ll be that difficult the rest of the way. The 49ers host Tennessee (fifth-most sacks this season) this Sunday, followed by a match with Jacksonville (best defense in the league) before wrapping up on the road against the Rams (third-most sacks).
If the Niners are going to continue their success, Garoppolo will have to replicate his performance in Houston. He had the second-best week dealing with pressure, according to Pro Football Focus, by accounting for 147 yards with limited time to throw. He felt the heat on slightly less than half of his dropbacks, also the second most on the week.
“It’s always a concern, especially it was a concern going in the last game, especially when you’ve got, I mean they’ve got a very good defense,” Shanahan said. “… You’ve got to deal with it and you’ve got to figure out ways to help.
You’ve also got to know that it’s going to be part of the game and we’ve got to see how you perform to it.”
It wasn’t all perfect, of course. There was that interception that was Garoppolo’s fault. (He just missed Trent Taylor, Shanahan said). But given the circumstances, like Jadeveon Clowney regularly bearing down on him, Garoppolo performed admirably.
Shanahan actually liked that he took chances when the pressure was on. He didn’t want him checking down to ensure low sack numbers — because it also ensures low production.
“It would be very easy for a guy to take a quick drop, get rid of it as fast as can be,” Shanahan said. “… You could probably end up saying that we had no sacks and we blocked better, but we also might have no first downs and no touchdowns to show for it.”
Right tackle Trent Brown is again unsure if he’ll be able to suit up on Sunday, so there’s no guarantee that help is on the way.
It’ll be up to Garoppolo to continue to do what he can to overcome the hand he’s been dealt. In a limited sample size, he’s proved himself able.
Witherspoon sprains knee
After playing a masterful game, No. 1 cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was forced to leave the field with a knee injury.
On Monday, Shanahan said Witherspoon’s MRI was encouraging, revealing just a sprained knee.
“He’ll be day-to-day,” Shanahan said. “We’ll see when he comes in Wednesday to have an idea whether he can practice, be limited, or what his status will be.”
The 23-year old has been instrumental to the 49ers’ success on defense this season. He recorded three tackles on Sunday.
“Any time they talk about a knee and stuff, I’m always nervous about it,” his coach said.