SANTA CLARA — As far as NFL head coaches go, Kyle Shanahan is as transparent as they come.
He’s not going to lie for a competitive advantage. When he says he won’t play Jimmy Garoppolo until all the factors align, he means it. It would’ve been absurd to put a prized, new signal caller behind a line decimated by injuries.
The other thing about Shanahan: He’s playing the long game, as he reminded the Faithful several times this week by saying Garoppolo isn’t here to save the season.
(Like, he — or any single player — could. Even Tom Brady, who general manager John Lynch reportedly inquired about before the trade deadline, couldn’t do anything with this group.)
“It didn’t look like, offensively, any of us did very well,” Shanahan said after the Niners’ 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
That’s the thing about playing the long game. The actual games — the ones fans pay hundreds of dollars to attend — are beyond ugly. Trusting the process sounds great, but feels awful.
Protect your investments
It doesn’t take a degree from Stanford to see why Shanahan kept Garoppolo on the sideline. Future backup quarterback CJ Beathard was hit 16 times — including five sacks.
He got hit in the pocket, he got hit scrambling. He was hit from the blindside, he was hit illegally after sliding.
But that’s his role, basically, until the offensive line is healthy enough to be trusted to protect Garoppolo.
“That’s one thing, I’m not afraid of getting hit,” Beathard said. “That won’t affect me. It never has. I’m tough and able to take things.”
He wasn’t able to do much more than that. Some of that can be excused to the fact he doesn’t have any complementary weapons. Other shortcomings — like the interception he threw with a minute left, officially killing any hope of the Niners getting their first win of the season — can’t.
Beathard threw it 51 times. That’s 11 more than he ever attempted in a single game in college or as a pro. He’d thrown 58 regular-season passes in his three outings for the 49ers combined.
When you don’t have the personnel to run-block, you have to do something. And, being thrust into an impossible situation is apparently taking a cost on the offensive linemen.
“I feel terrible,” guard Brandon Fusco said. “I’m tired of walking into the locker room and shaking the owner’s hand and seeing Shanahan just down, and Lynch — saying sorry to him. Wish we could do better for them. It starts with me, it starts with the offensive line.”
He’s right. And with Garoppolo on board, maybe the Niners should spend their eventual top-three pick on shoring up the most critical part of a pro offense.
The poor get poorer
The 49ers entered the season with a thin roster that couldn’t possibly withstand the rigors of an NFL season.
Nine weeks into the schedule, the defense has lost five starters for the rest of the season.
In the coming days, Jaquiski Tartt will join Malcolm Smith, Tank Carradine, Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward on the injured reserve. The 11th-best safety in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, broke his forearm during Arizona’s touchdown drive in the second quarter.
The attrition on the offensive line cost the 49ers the game, but what’s happened to the defense didn’t help. Adrian Peterson, in his 11th season as a pro, logged a career high number of carries at 37. Bruce Arians needed him to shoulder the load with Carson Palmer injured and career backup Drew Stanton playing like he’s career backup Drew Stanton.
But, there was one injury development that should be welcomed by 49ers fans: Reuben Foster completed his first game as a pro. He was damn good, too.
Foster was credited with 14 total tackles (one for a loss) and showed outstanding speed. He left the game for a couple plays when he aggravated the high ankle sprain that forced him to miss five games earlier this season. The episode led to eye rolling and moaning that maybe he’ll never be healthy.
For those people, Foster prefers you’d relax.
“I feel great, I feel blessed,” he said. “I am not injured or hurting, I feel good.”
Foster is imperative to the 49ers realizing their “lose now to win later” aspirations. Translation: The collective anxiety in Santa Clara every time he lingers on the ground isn’t going anywhere.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at email@example.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.