By David Kang
[Obligatory “Burn Chicago All-22 to the fiery pits of hell comment”]
I’ve always been hesitant about Jimmy Garoppolo. Before this season, he’s only thrown regular 94 passes in his first three seasons in the NFL. Garoppolo also has been under the tutelage of the best football coach in history, and he and Josh McDaniels did a good job of protecting Garoppolo in his few appearances with easy reads and throws. Garoppolo did a good job in executing what he was told to do, but he still hadn’t shown enough on film to warrant all the ridiculous trade rumors of multiple 1st round picks. We’ve (using the 1st person liberally here) also been burned in the past by other young New England QBs like Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Mallett with Brissett being the exception as he has shown the most promise out of all of them. Many of the coaches on the receiving end of these quarterbacks did not have the ability to get the most out of these QBs like Belichick was able to do.
Lucky for Garoppolo, he went from one great coach to another in Kyle Shanahan, the architect of the record-breaking 2016 Atlanta Falcons offense (RIP). After the 5-week delay of him learning the playbook and getting on the field, Garoppolo made his first start in a 49er uniform this past weekend with the Bears and excelled, leading them to a game winning FG at the end of the game. Garoppolo completed 26 passes out of 37 attempts (70.3%) for 293 yards (7.9 Y/A) with 0 TDs and a fluky INT. While those numbers appear pedestrian, Garoppolo displayed many standout traits to suggest that he can be a franchise caliber quarterback.
Let’s start with his accuracy. We all know that completion % is a poor proxy for a QB’s accuracy as it does not account for the depth of the throws. With a high completion percentage at 70.3% and a relatively low Y/A at 7.9, you might think that all he did was just dink and dunk his way down the field. This is not the case. Garoppolo made several great intermediate throws that hit his receiver in stride to gain yards after the catch.
Late in the 1st quarter, the 49ers run one of their favorite plays on 1st and 10, the Yankee concept with play action in the I. The Bears match it with a Cover 3 and covers the receivers fairly well. The field CB and the high safety take care of the post, and Eddie Jackson the hook defender does a good job of gaining depth after the play action to take away the deep crosser. Marquise Goodwin makes a key adjustment here that makes the play work here. He sees Jackson in the way of his route and sits in the hole in the zone by hesitating for just a second. Trevathan gained decent enough depth here to be in the passing lane, but Garoppolo throws an absolute beauty of a ball. He adjusts the trajectory of the pass to be able to fit it just over Trevathan but underneath the deep safety as well. He throws with good timing and hits Goodwin in stride to let him gain some yardage after the catch.
This is early in the 1st on 3rd and 10 in the 49ers opening drive, and the 49ers run essentially a 1 route play. The 49ers have 4 receivers on the left but have Goodwin isolated against off coverage in the boundary side of the field. Bears are in Cover 3 again, and Fuller gains a lot of depth against the speedy Goodwin expecting Prosinski, the curl flat defender, to take away the deep comeback. Garoppolo does a good job holding the safety still with his eyes and throws with great anticipation as the receiver is making his break into a tight window for a 1st down completion.
On this play early in the 4th, you see Garoppolo’s precision and accuracy again. This is a simple 2×2 pass play with curl flats on the left and slant flats on the right. The CB is playing off coverage which leaves some space for the receiver, but often times, the LB chasing the flat receiver can get in the passing lane for the slant. Garoppolo manages to sling it into Goodwin again in a very tight window on another perfectly thrown ball.
The 49ers are driving late in the 4th quarter this game on 3rd and 9 for the game, and Garoppolo delivers once again. The 49ers are in a 2×2 set with the receivers on the left running a double slant concept and the bunch receivers on the right running a flat-7 concept. The Bears run an interesting coverage here with Cover 1 press man coverage in the double slant side, a LB matched up in man against the RB, and Cover 2 versus the bunch receivers running the flat 7. Luckily for the 49ers, the double slant concept work perfectly against man coverage, and Trent Taylor is able to easily win in space due to his short area quickness. Garoppolo throws another beauty of a ball hitting Taylor directly in stride for an extra 20 yards after the catch.
You might still be a little skeptical about the previous four passes. Garoppolo was in pristine conditions in the pocket to throw the ball with his feet perfectly set. Can he operate in pressure without perfect conditions? Based on what we’ve seen in this game, the answer is yes as Garoppolo showed off excellent arm talent in this particular game. You saw a glimpse of it in the first play above as he is able to adjust the trajectory of his pass. Although he doesn’t have insane velocity on the football like a Cam Newton or Russell Wilson, the ball comes off his hand very easily. It does not take much effort for Garoppolo to deliver the football and generate easy velocity, and he also shows great ability to throw from different platforms and arm angles with his feet not totally set. With a mediocre offensive line, this is an excellent skill to have as it’ll elevate the offense’s abilities beyond the limitation of the offensive line.
The 49ers run a double dig play off of play action, which acts as a counter play for their usual Yankee play off of play action. Notice how the CB opens his hips and bails waiting for the deep post by Goodwin. Instead, Goodwin runs a dig route in space cleared by the other receiver’s dig. Garoppolo here faces quick pressure the middle with Akiem Hicks eluding Trent Brown at the LOS. Garoppolo shows great poise here despite the pressure and delivers the football again with great anticipation just as the receiver is coming out of his break. He can’t adjust his feet to avoid the pressure because it’ll throw off the timing of the play, so he throws the ball knowing that he’s going to take a shot. Even with all these imperfect conditions, the ball still arrives on time and in stride for the receiver.
This pass is incomplete, but it is a ridiculous play nonetheless. Garoppolo throws a coffin corner pass on the move to the corner of the endzone and over the cornerback, where only his receiver can go up and get the football. Kittle makes the great grab but lands out of bounds.
Here is another insane pass. The Bears run a great blitz from the slot. The 49ers run half man half slide protection with the center sliding right. The RB and the TE both go out for passes, and the slot blitz occupies the LT. The edge rusher here loops inside of the A gap while the interior defender #90 occupies the LG. #90, Jonathan Bullard, does an excellent job of holding the LG, so he won’t be able to peel off and at least slow down the interior pressure. Garoppolo gets pressured fairly quickly, but he is able to flick the ball from a side arm with his feet all over the place as you can see below.
Garoppolo’s ability to throw with anticipation is evident again here as the receiver is not even in the frame when he releases the football. He knows he can’t generate too much velocity from such a body position and knows he has to throw the ball into space, so the receiver can come across and make the play. Garoppolo manages to throw another perfect ball into a tight window in stride for the receiver to run after the catch.
This is probably the most ridiculous play out of the bunch. This is another play action pass with twins on the field side of the field and a late flat out of the backfield as the 3rd option. The outside receiver runs an out route and the slot receiver runs a pivot route. Bears look to be in quarter-quarter-half coverage with a simple 4-man rush. Akiem Hicks manages to quickly shed Trent Brown again with a wide-open running lane to the quarterback. Garoppolo sees the pressure again and throws leaning backwards in a side arm into triple coverage. The receiver is about to break to the outside before he sees the throw bringing him back inside. Christian Jones has his back turned toward the QB, which gives the ball a chance to be complete. Garoppolo fits this in exactly the spot it needed to be in between three defenders for an absolute absurd 16-yard completion.
In terms of any negative traits that stood out from this game, they are mostly nitpicking ball placement here and there. This was a very good debut by Jimmy Garoppolo. One thing of concern is his tendency to stare down his receiver from the beginning of the snap (You can see it here, here, here, and here). He needs to develop better eye discipline to avoid giving up where he is going with the football too frequently. Although he has great arm talent like you’ve seen above, he still doesn’t have the top tier velocity to fit throws based on arm strength alone.
Above all, the sample size is very small at 1 game, but so far Garoppolo is looking like a bargain pickup for the 49ers, where they have potentially found a franchise quarterback with a 2nd round pick. They can easily recoup that pick if they trade down from their already high draft spot in a QB heavy draft filled with QB needy teams across the league. The 49ers have no chance to compete for anything significant in the 2017 season, but if Garoppolo keeps this up and GM John Lynch can build up the roster around him, the 49ers have a good chance in becoming contenders for a long stretch of time.