SANTA CLARA — Jimmy Garoppolo is still the 49ers’ starting quarterback, Trey Lance is still on-call for cameos, and, once again, Matthew Stafford is a compelling issue.
That quarterback triangle converges Monday night when Stafford and the Rams (7-2) visit the 49ers (3-5).
Some 10 months ago, the 49ers positioned themselves in a potential trade for Stafford, until a Saturday night deal went down in Cabo San Lucas. It was the Rams who’d pulled off a trade for the Detroit Lions refugee.
Stafford leads NFL passers in yards (2,771) and efficiency rating (110.0), and his 23 touchdown passes are second behind Tom Brady’s 25.
“They’re a little more aggressive in the passing game and do a lot more drop back than they used to,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
The 49ers’ offense hasn’t changed much, not after an early-season tease of Lance’s dual-threat presence to substitute in for Garoppolo, who is 4-0 starting against the Rams.
Lance has yet to play a snap or attempt a pass since his starting debut, which he sprained a knee Oct. 10 at Arizona.
As for whether Lance ever will seize the starting role, Shanahan said: “I have to see how the season goes — when he’s ready, when our team’s ready. Obviously, (when) there’s nothing to play for, you make that decision for a lot of guys, trying to prepare guys for the next year.”
Since camp, Garoppolo is seen by Shanahan as giving the 49ers the best chance to win, at a time when they urgently must win.
So what to do with Lance? “Every time he’s up, there’ll be packages for him and he’ll always be an option to play,” Shanahan said, echoing his season-long stance.
Going into last Sunday’s loss to Arizona, Shanahan thought Lance might play some, “but the way the game went, we never got into a rhythm offensively,” the coach said. “I didn’t feel it was time to mix him in and change more stuff up.”
Shanahan did not dispute a recent report, by Mike Silver for Ballysports.com, that Lance had “leveled off” as training camp progressed. “He’s gone up, he’s gone down, just like every player in here,” Shanahan said.
When training camp opened in late July, Shanahan revisited the Stafford-trade pursuit during a press conference, confirming that “it started to get somewhat serious … and then you go to sleep and you wake up and he’s on the Rams.”
The Rams sent Detroit quarterback Jared Goff, a 2021 third-round pick and first-round picks in 2022 and ‘23. The deal went down while Shanahan, Stafford and Rams coach Sean McVay were independently vacationing in Cabo.
Shanahan appeared on a podcast with McVay (and the NFL Network’s Peter Schrager) in early July and also discussed the “frustrating” and ultimately fruitless pursuit of Stafford.
“To spend two weeks really watching him, Sean, yeah, he’s better than I realized,” Shanahan said on that Flying Coach podcast. “I mean he was the man and he’s actually underrated to me.
“I know how good of a guy you got. I know how good he is at play-action. I know how smart he is. Not only does he just have a big arm, but he’s got touch, he knows where to go with the ball. So I was trying to get involved in it.”
Stafford is coming off his worst game with the Rams, a 28-16 home loss to Tennessee that included two interceptions and five sacks. But the Rams got a positive jolt Thursday when wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. chose to sign with them as a free agent.
“I knew this is an enticing city to play in, this is an enticing organization to play for,” Stafford told Rams’ reporters Thursday. “We have a bunch of other great players on this team … so it’s exciting for other people to come and play with those guys. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
If the 49ers either dare to pass against the NFL’s sack leaders or are forced to come back from a big deficit, Garoppolo at least has rare momentum.
His 648 yards are the NFL’s most over the past two weeks, just ahead of Stafford’s 599 yards. Garoppolo has thrown for over 300 yards in back-to-back games, and the 49ers haven’t had a quarterback do that three games in a row since Jeff Garcia in 2000.
Garoppolo didn’t credit that increased production to the fact he hasn’t been subbed out for Lance, like he was on seven snaps against the Lions and the Packers in Weeks 1 and 3.
“Every week, if Trey comes in or he doesn’t come in, it really doesn’t change what I’m doing out there,” Garoppolo said. “But, yeah, you could say we’re in a groove.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement with us. We have some things that we could shore up just in the past game, especially just with crisper, getting onto the details and things like that. I think it will make us that much better.”