Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Great Quarterback Experiment

Bret Rumbeck
Dec 1, 2017 at 5:58 AM4

She blinded me with science
She blinded me with science
And failed me in geometry
- Thomas Dolby

Science was never one of my better subjects. However, I did enjoy conducting experiments. I could embrace my inner Emmett L. 'Doc' Brown and devise a ridiculous hypothesis and test it, knowing full well my 'educated guess' would fail.

One teacher encouraged our chemistry class to tinker with the experiment as we wished to achieve the desired outcome or different results. In fact, he loved it when the experiment went haywire.

Kyle Shanahan: Inadvertent Scientist

Head coach Kyle Shanahan never meant to wander into a quarterback science experiment, but he's smack in the middle of one. Shanahan named 49er Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback back in May without a second of on-the-field competition.

Some thought Hoyer could be the bridge quarterback the 49ers needed; others felt Hoyer was a lost cause from the moment he signed with the team. Those of us in the latter category relished in our genius.

Shanahan needed an offensive spark, so he called upon rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard midway through the Week 6 game against Washington. Over five-and-a-half games, Beathard had flashes of brilliance but never brought the needed cesium explosion to the offensive unit.

This Sunday, Shanahan begins the third part of his experiment when veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo takes the field against the Chicago Bears. Like my chemistry teacher, the fan base is brimming with delight at the possible outcome.

Here's the upside of all this mad sports science: The 49ers are conducting the fairest quarterback competition in all the land.

Components of a Valid Experiment

Without knowing it, Shanahan's quarterback experiment comes with all that's necessary for valid, tested science: variation, controls, results, and data. Each quarterback played or will play behind an offensive line that is being held together with surgical glue, chicken wire, and intense prayer. The quarterbacks run the same offense, struggle with a variety of challenges with the skill positions and have key offensive players on injured reserve.

Hoyer and Beathard each played in five-and-a-half games. Garoppolo, assuming he starts the remainder of the season, will play in five games.

During Hoyer's tenure, he faced teams with a current combined win percentage of 55 percent, an average defensive rank of 18th and an average passing defense ranked 15th overall.

The Brian Hoyer Experiment, which was a ridiculous hypothesis from the start, ended not with a bang, but a slow, lifeless fizzle. His results: 119-for-205, 1,245 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions and then was shown the exit.

Beathard's opposition had similar figures: The combined win percentage of the opponents he faced is currently at 52 percent. Averaging the current defensive ranks of these same teams reveals an 18th overall position, and ranks these teams 19th in pass defense.

More than any measurable statistic, Beathard proved his bone structure is pure adamantium, surviving 16 sacks and a seemingly infinite amount of hits. However, his results are similar to Hoyer: 123-for-224, 1,430 yards, four touchdowns, six interceptions and three rushing touchdowns.

Excluding the big win against the New York Giants, Beathard was not the catalyst for the 49ers' offense. Of the 13 possessions the offense had against Seattle last week, it had nine punts, three 3-and-outs and had back-to-back drives that resulted in a combined loss of 21 yards. As usual, the team had to kick field goals to stay on the scoreboard.

What Will Garoppolo Face?

The remaining teams left for the 49ers have won 54 percent of their games. Garoppolo will see better defenses, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, with the best defense in the league, and Los Angeles Rams, with the seventh-ranked defense. Overall, his opposition has an average defense rank of 13th overall, and a passing defense ranked 12th.

Garoppolo may not walk on water. There's no way to look at any quarterback who's thrown fewer than 100 regular season attempts and state his future greatness. However, his film shows a better pocket presence and fundamentals than Hoyer and Beathard. The 67 seconds that Garoppolo played on Sunday was like a liter of glacier water to a fan base that's walked the desert for the last 17 years seeking a savior.

We all have varied opinions on the quarterback position, but I think we can agree on one point: We're starving for someone who is consistent, poised, and can change six-point losses into decisive 14-point wins.

Scientific Conclusion

After Hoyer and Beathard, I understand entirely why the Garoppolo hype has grown into a massive planet with enough gravity to capture any moons passing into its orbit. And we can all conduct a fair comparison between Garoppolo's play against Beathard's when the final whistle sounds in a few weeks.

Beathard's injury allows the organization to prepare for a productive offseason, and forces Shanahan to continue his evaluation. In a few weeks, Shanahan will have an answer to his testable question: Who is the best quarterback to run the modern West Coast Offense for a franchise that hasn't tasted success in more than 20 years?
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Guru
    I disagree with all your analysis in every article you have wrote, to be honest. Its hardly an 'experiment' when a QB as good as Garappolo was acquired. He has the potential to put up Aaron Rogers type numbers. I watched him in New England and they didn't change their offense at all when he was in. I feel like ppl aren't evaluating correctly, I mean this guy is really good and he's ready.
    Dec 6, 2017 at 3:54 PM
  • Faithful Native
    Re: The Great Quarterback Experiment As a lifelong 49er fan I take great exception to your closing line: "for a franchise that hasn't tasted success in more than 20 years"... I'd say making it to three straight NFC Championship games (2011, 2012, 2013) and a Superbowl (2012) is AT LEAST "tasting success".
    Dec 6, 2017 at 1:52 PM
  • Old9er
    Good article. Shanahan is indeed a mad scientist, who is entirely infatuated with his "System"; apparently Hoyer was supposedly familiar enough with it to run the offense. However the boy-genius was blinded by his own "intelligence-beyond-understanding" approach, and he didn't recognize Hoyer for what he is: a placeholder, and not a lousy one. I feel sorry for Beathard; he's simply Shanahan's latest lab-rat. As you stated, Jimmy G does obviously know how to conduct himself in the pocket, which allows him to find receivers. That is because he was coached by a true genius (Bill B and his staff), which Shanahan is not. Something good maybe coming, despite the efforts of the boy genius.
    Dec 1, 2017 at 9:54 AM
    Response: Thanks for reading. You must have read my notes and first draft. I had some comments on Hoyer's supposed knowledge of the system. Part of the failed experiment, methinks.
  • stevebanzai
    I couldn't have said it any better: "The 67 seconds that Garoppolo played on Sunday was like a liter of glacier water to a fan base that's walked the desert for the last 17 years seeking a savior." Throw in Kyle Shanahan, and you've got to admit, Walsh and Steve Young were on the other side of that's been THAT LONG!
    Dec 1, 2017 at 6:10 AM
    Response: Thanks for reading. Hard to believe the last Super Bowl win was in 1994!

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