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Jimmy Garoppolo finds ups and downs in first preseason as starter

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jimmy Garoppolo's first preseason as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback came to an end Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts. Barring a major surprise, Garoppolo won't play in the preseason finale Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Which makes now a good time to take stock of Garoppolo and the first-team offense's preseason performance.

Saturday's game against the Colts offered Garoppolo and the starting offense their best opportunity to play at length in this preseason. That group played the entire first half and the opening possession of the third quarter for a total of 42 snaps. The results were mixed.

“There are a lot of little details that we need to get fixed up before we get back out there," Garoppolo said. "There are a lot of good things. We moved the ball well, but it’s just the little details like that that I think we need to fix up.”

Those little details -- namely, drops by his pass-catchers (there were four or five with Garoppolo in the game, depending on your perspective) and costly penalties (the starting offense had four accepted penalties and two declined, including a couple in the red zone) -- kept the Niners from doing the most important thing: scoring touchdowns.

The Niners managed just a pair of field goals with the starting offense in the game and went 0-for-3 in the red zone. Garoppolo's final line against Indianapolis -- 9-of-19 for 135 yards with no touchdowns or an interceptions for a passer rating of 71.2 -- would definitely have looked better were it not for the drops, but he also benefited from at least a pair of would-be interceptions that Colts linebacker Darius Leonard dropped.

In three preseason games, Garoppolo was 22-of-37 for 305 yards with a touchdown and an interception for a passer rating of 83.7. Those numbers came in what was roughly equivalent to a little more than three quarters of play. He played a single series against Dallas and two against Houston in addition to the extended look against Indianapolis.

Here's a look at what went well and what needs work as the Niners head toward the Sept. 9 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings:

What went well

-- For the most part, Garoppolo was his usual, accurate self. The completion percentage, just less than 60 percent, isn't much to write home about, but drops played a big part in skewing those numbers. While Garoppolo said it's on him to throw more accurate balls to help mitigate those drops, he usually was putting the ball in a spot that allowed his receivers to get yards after the catch. Evidence of that can be found in his 8.24 yards per attempt average, which is a bit below the 8.76 he put up last year and still would have ranked best in the NFL over the course of last season.

-- Garoppolo appears to be on the same page with most of his targets. The Niners used many different receivers with the starting group throughout training camp and that appears to have helped create chemistry with Garoppolo and all of his targets. Garoppolo completed passes to nine skill-position players in his playing time. He is undoubtedly still in sync with receivers Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle, but his timing with Pierre Garcon also improved each week.

-- Along with that, Garoppolo seemed to get more and more comfortable with the deep ball throughout the preseason. Garoppolo and Goodwin connected on a perfectly placed deep ball against the Texans and narrowly missed on another against the Colts. He also had more success with the deep ball in practice as training camp rolled on. Garoppolo has maintained that the deep ball is always one of the last things to come, and though he still needs to prove he can be consistent with it in games, progress was apparent.

-- More often than not, Garoppolo had time to throw and he didn't take many big hits. Yes, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence delivered a big hit early in the opener. Aside from that, Garoppolo was mostly upright and the only sack came when he scrambled away from pressure against the Colts and ran out of bounds for a 1-yard loss. With some moving pieces on his offensive line, that group did a solid job in pass protection and Garoppolo continued to get rid of the ball quickly.

What needs work

-- Garoppolo had one interception in the preseason but an argument could be made that it wasn't his fault, as wideout Dante Pettis failed to come down with a pass that was a bit too high. Pettis did get his hands on it and was unable to bring it in. Still, Garoppolo was high on a number of throws in preseason games and was fortunate not to have a few other attempts intercepted. Garoppolo threw five interceptions in five starts last season, some of which also were not his fault. But he also benefited from some drops by defenders. Turnovers are always something to monitor and will be moving forward.

-- Despite Garoppolo's strong performance against the Texans, coach Kyle Shanahan wasn't overly impressed. Shanahan cited the need to improve on the details and, in Garoppolo's case, the need to get through his progressions faster. As Garoppolo grows more comfortable in Shanahan's scheme, that's something that should come, and Garoppolo acknowledged the need to trust his knowledge of what's happening on the backside of the play.

All told, Garoppolo's first offseason with the Niners allowed him to gain a deeper understanding of Shanahan's offense and build further chemistry with his teammates. The question now is how it will all translate as he embarks on his first season as a full-time starter.

“We hold ourselves to a high standard," Garoppolo said. "We are trying to be perfect on everything and I think it’s good to have that mindset.”