5 lessons SF 49ers learned after losing to Cardinals in Week 1

Chris Banjo #31 of the Arizona Cardinals intercepts a pass intended for Jerick McKinnon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Chris Banjo #31 of the Arizona Cardinals intercepts a pass intended for Jerick McKinnon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Jimmy Garoppolo, SF 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers chased by Zach Allen #94 of the Arizona Cardinals (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

SF 49ers Lesson No. 1: Jimmy Garoppolo needs to find his comfort zone

By the book, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a decent day: 19 completions on 33 attempts, 259 yards through the air, no turnovers and two touchdowns is exactly the stat-line that could be anticipated for the SF 49ers starting QB in a winning effort.

Yet, why would Garoppolo be universally panned for his performance Sunday? Because the stats don’t tell the full story.

Garoppolo dealt with a lack of talent in his weapons, protection that failed at times, and play-calling that didn’t push the envelope. All those are legitimate issues for Jimmy G and will be addressed.

But at the end of the day, Garoppolo simply didn’t have a good day.

He was timid in the pocket from the get-go, throwing balls too early without letting the play develop, missing open receivers down the field as he turned to ill-advised check-downs, and overall, simply not having authority over the offense. He waited too long on reads because it looked like he didn’t trust the throw, throwing balls late and inaccurately, as Matt Delucchi of Niner Noise illustrated in his analysis of Garoppolo’s day. And when he waited too long and let options become covered, he would force it into a terrible situation, resulting in quite a few problems for the Niners.

There were two types of Garoppolo’s who played on Sunday, both of whom made questionable decisions: The one who took on the ultimate gunslinger mentality to an extreme where the offense was tossing jump-balls to covered players, and the one who either fell apart from the pressure or threw a ball late or short because he wasn’t confident enough, or some other reason.

Neither Garoppolo is good enough to lead this team.

The first does too much and ends up hurting the offense because he places it in compromising situations with his bad decisions. The second does too little and hurts the team because the offense cannot function normally with his limitations. But there are benefits to both styles, though disguised in poor decisions.

The first Garoppolo targeted running back Jerick McKinnon on a pass that should never have been thrown, but the Niners were gifted with a pass interference penalty on Arizona as a result. Does that mean the pass was smart? Absolutely not. But when a player is aggressive and attacks a defense, he can force a mistake to be made, like that penalty. The second Garoppolo saw his first option open and threw it accurately to hit running back Raheem Mostert in stride on an angle-route for a 76-yard touchdown. Does that mean Garoppolo should always keep it short and hope his skill players make a big play? Well, that was the game plan after that play, and it failed, miserably.

But that one play was a smart simple read that paid off big.

The job of an NFL quarterback is to be able to find the comfort zone between these two places. Garoppolo in 2017, the flash of five games that showed how he could be a franchise quarterback, had that comfort zone. Garoppolo in 2019 against the Cardinals and during the “gauntlet” stretch late in the season had that comfort zone. That Jimmy G throws with more confidence, not hesitating nearly as much on his reads. That Jimmy G  tests a defense, causing penalties by putting pressure. But that Jimmy G knows how to take what the defense gives him.

That version of Garoppolo is what the SF 49ers need to mask any issues they have health-wise, and that version is what makes their offense go to a new level. Maybe the health of the team improving or the play-calling taking that into account will help him.

But in the end, it’s on Garoppolo to be able to find that spot, and play like that no matter the situation.