On Saturday, two days after Jimmy Garoppolo threw five interceptions in a joint practice with the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch said his quarterback’s return from a torn ACL was “flawless.”
His preseason debut? Not so much. On Garoppolo’s first in-game dropback of the preseason, Bradley Chubb bull rushed All-Pro left tackle Joe Staley, Garoppolo rushed a pass to Marquise Goodwin and Isaac Yiadom jumped the route for an interception.
Garoppolo went 1-for-6 for no yards, one pick and two passes batted down by Shelby Harris in a 24-15 preseason win in sweltering 95-degree Denver on Monday. While his passing line looks concerning on its face, it was the first time Garoppolo had seen a live pass rush in 11 months, and it was a pass rush engineered by Vic Fangio.
After San Francisco easily beat a Zeke Elliot-less Cowboys team last week 17-9, the return of Garoppolo, plus more Matt Breida and significantly fewer than 28 regulars resting, should have translated into a more robust offensive effort.
Garoppolo — who hadn’t felt pressure in the pocket since Week 3 of 2018, when he scampered out of the pocket and tore his ACL against Kansas City — got little protection when he needed it most. The pressure he felt came against his two most veteran offensive linemen: Joe Staley and Laken Tomlinson.
In San Francisco’s second offensive second series, Chubb bullied Staley into Garoppolo’s back foot, and rather than step up into the pocket or slide away, Garoppolo nearly threw another pick on third-and-six, staring down Jordan Matthews and throwing the ball off De’Vante Bausby’s hands.
Staley — a three-time second-team All-Pro — and Tomlinson — with 55 NFL starts — had great difficulty with Chubb, who, after tallying 12 sacks last season, has developed a variety of new, secondary pass rush moves. He used several on the left side of the 49ers line. When sixth-round rookie Justin Skule relieved Staley in the second quarter, Chubb struck again. On C.J. Beathard’s second snap in the second quarter, Chubb used a power move, a speed move and then a bit of a swim to get to Beathard for a strip sack.
In other offensive line difficulties, Najee Toran, fighting for a roster spot and playing right guard in place of injured starter Mike Person, drew two holding penalties in the first half. The 49ers wanted to play Garoppolo for two series, but trotted him out for a third, and it was Toran’s second holding penalty that cut that drive short.
Garropolo may not have looked flawless, but facing Bradley Chubb right out of the rip — for both him and Staley — wasn’t exactly a fair test, even if it did show how far Garoppolo still has to go. One reason for optimism: The 49ers scored 21 unanswered points in the second half as the receiver race got even tighter, thanks to a 45-yard jet sweep by the speedy and versatile Deebo Samuel, and a dagger 26-yard corner fade from Nick Mullens to Kendrick Bourne.