San Francisco

Niners Face Challenge of Protecting Garoppolo Over Final Three Games

Titans, Jaguars and Rams all have great pass rushes, so 49ers offensive line will have to be at peak form

Jimmy Garoppolo is now the future of the San Francisco 49ers. Since taking over the starting quarterback role, the former Patriots backup has been brilliant in two games, guiding his team to victories over the Bears and Texans.

As the team winds down a 3-10 season, the entire 49ers franchise suddenly seems energized and optimistic about the future.

But that future won’t look so rosy if the 49ers can’t protect their young passer. And, with the final three games against the Titans (Sunday), Jaguars on Dec. 24 and Rams on Dec. 31, San Francisco’s offensive line certainly will be challenged to do just that – especially with right tackle Trent Brown injured and likely out for possibly all three games.

As Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group noted this week, the Titans defense has 22 sacks in its past three games, the most for a three-game stretch in their franchise history. The next opponent, Jacksonville – which Inman points out has picked up the nickname “Sacksonville” this season – leads the NFL with 47 sacks. The Rams are tied for third in the league with 40 sacks.

Keeping Garoppolo safe and sound will be a challenge.

“It’s our chance to prove to ourselves what kind of team we want to be moving forward and really challenge ourselves against some great defenses,” left tackle Joe Staley said.

This will be Garoppolo’s starting debut at Levi’s Stadium after two starts on the road. If he can produce the way he has in his past two games, the 49ers will at least have a fighting chance against the Titans, who are 8-5. Garoppolo has thrown for 627 yards in his two starts, completing 46-of-70 throws.

One key stat: In those games, he’s been sacked twice each game. Against Houston he was hit nine times, including one that drew a roughing-the-passer flag. The 49ers blockers up front will have to be much better over these next three games.

Garoppolo, however, has impressed his teammates with his toughness.

“He gets up,” defensive lineman DeForest Buckner says of him. “A guy will come free and he’ll finish his throw, complete the pass and take the hit. The guy’s a warrior.”

The 49ers – because of Garoppolo’s play -- actually are favored by 1½ points Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.

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