Jimmy Garoppolo has had a blessed tenure as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.
He made his first start near his hometown against the Chicago Bears and their lame duck coach. He followed that with an impressive, if painful, outing against the 4-9 Houston Texans. But now the degree of difficulty is going to be turned up for the Niners’ final three games of the season.
The Tennessee Titans and their 37 sacks (fifth most in the NFL) come to Santa Clara today. Next week, it’ll be the Jacksonville Jaguars — owners of the league’s best pass-rushing unit. Finally, they’ll wrap it up at the Los Angeles Coliseum against the Rams, who — wait for it — also experience a lot of success when rushing the quarterback.
And in case that wasn’t daunting enough, Garoppolo and the 49ers will have to handle those significant challenges without one of their best offensive lineman.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan announced Friday the team was moving right tackle Trent Brown to the injured reserve after the shoulder injury that held him out of last week’s contest hadn’t improved.
“Trent tried to battle through it,” Shanahan told reporters. “… Trent is a very important part of this place, of our future.”
And he would’ve been an important part of keeping Garoppolo clean in the pocket against the most daunting pass rush the league has to offer.
Now, it’ll be Zane Beadles who bookends the right side of the line. Replacing Brown’s productivity — he’s widely regarded as one of the best tackles in the league — is a tough ask for the interior-lineman by trade. Despite carrying a 30.9 overall ranking (for context: that isn’t good), Beadles has a believer in his head coach.
“I have a lot of confidence going into games with Zane because the game isn’t too big for him,” Shanahan said. “If we put him on an island, he’ll struggle like anybody. … But if he gets beat, he won’t shut down.”
His presence is going to force Shanahan to alter blocking schemes because it would be a borderline cruelty to expect him to guard Brian Orakpo without some help. (The Niners did get a reprieve of sorts on Friday, when Tennessee ruled Derrick Morgan out with a knee sprain.)
Losing an offensive foundation like Brown is going to make Garoppolo’s first start in Levi’s Stadium more difficult than the Faithful would prefer to see.
It’ll be a true test of his ability to make quick decisions and deliver the ball accurately. Because there’s opportunity against the Titans secondary, which is in the bottom 10 for passing yards allowed.
It isn’t under ideal circumstances, but — for this week, at least — the 49ers are in good position to keep their hot streak going. And they don’t hide the fact they want to play spoiler with their remaining contests.
Shanahan sees it as another learning opportunity.
“People are playing for their lives, and we’re going to get that from a team on Sunday,” Shanahan said. “I want us to have that intensity every time we line up.”
And if Garoppolo can pass these three tests, it’ll be the most joyous offseason for a losing team the Bay Area has ever seen.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.