SANTA CLARA — Jimmy Garoppolo is the new C.J. Beathard as Beathard was the new Brian Hoyer.
The 49ers are stuck in a time loop. Call it Groundhog Day. The same basic pattern repeats itself every few weeks and head coach Kyle Shanahan can’t break it. He is a slave to the pattern.
The pattern began during training camp when Hoyer was the starting quarterback. He was fantastic in practice and the dress-rehearsal preseason game, game No. 3. He brought energy and optimism to the team. He wasn’t afraid to throw downfield. He seemed confident, aggressive, on the verge of a breakout season.
But he hadn’t gotten hit hard yet. Coaches instruct defensive players not to touch quarterbacks during practice, so Hoyer didn’t have to avoid pass rushers or make throws while taking shots to the face.
When the season began, Hoyer started taking shots. Big ones. The 49ers offensive line couldn’t protect him and he couldn’t protect himself. He’s a pocket quarterback with limited mobility.
Shanahan didn’t protect Hoyer. Shanahan simply ran the same offense that worked for him last season when he was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, a more talented team than the 49ers. He forced Hoyer to drop back and pass 38.8 times per game even though Hoyer was getting pounded. Shanahan made no adjustment or accommodation for poor pass protection.
By Hoyer’s sixth start with the 49ers — a road game against the Washington Redskins — he was totally gun-shy.
He reacted to pressure that wasn’t there. He rushed to throw before he set his feet. He checked down right away just to get rid of the ball before someone clobbered him. Against the Redskins, he averaged only 8.5 yards per completion — way below his career average of 11.8.
Hoyer no longer was a functional quarterback. Shanahan had to bench him. Had no choice.
He let circumstances dictate his decision instead of letting his decision dictate circumstances. This is Shanahan’s pattern.
It repeated itself when Beathard became the quarterback in the sixth game. He replaced Hoyer midway through the second quarter against the Redskins, trailing 17-0, and quickly tied the game at 17. He almost won it at the end. He was fantastic for a rookie making his debut.
Beathard brought energy and optimism to the team. He wasn’t afraid to throw downfield. He seemed confident, aggressive, on the verge of a breakout season, just as Hoyer had seemed.
Beathard even showed he could evade pass rushers and scramble when he needed to. Hoyer couldn’t do those things. And Beathard showed he was tough. He didn’t protect himself in the pocket. He was willing to take hits. Fans, coaches and players thought these qualities would make up for the poor pass protection and allow Beathard to succeed where Hoyer failed.
But, Beathard hadn’t gotten hit hard yet.
The hard hits came quickly. During his next five starts, opponents hit him 69 times.
Shanahan didn’t protect Beathard. Shanahan forced him to drop back and pass 37.6 times per game even though Beathard was getting pounded. Shanahan made no adjustment or accommodation for poor protection, like handing off the ball to a running back with regularity.