The San Francisco 49ers will send out quarterback Blaine Gabbert for his third start of the season. Through two starts, Gabbert has been better than I expected. He has completed 37 of 59 passes (62.7 percent) for 449 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions, and 54 rushing yards. David Neumann will be putting together a Gabbert film breakdown next week, but with Gabbert's third start coming up, I thought it was worth getting a few quick thoughts down.
In running the offense, Gabbert has looked considerably more comfortable this season than Colin Kaepernick. The offense seems to still be a relatively simple set of concepts, but more detailed film study will help clear that up further. But Gabbert seems to be finding his targets with slightly better ease. When Gabbert has been off, his passes have not been quite as off the mark as Kap when the latter has been off.
The biggest downside I've seen is some questionable decision-making. Against the Seahawks, he had two potential interceptions dropped. That does not show up in the box score. Of course, on the flip side, Gabbert's first interception against Atlanta was entirely Jerome Simpson's fault, but Gabbert got hung with the interception.
Pro Football Focus graded out Gabbert at +1.6 against Seattle, giving him two straight positive grades in the starting lineup. His average depth of target was 9.4 yards, where as Kap was averaging 7.7 yards. Gabbert was blitzed on only six of his 40 dropbacks. On those six snaps, he was 5 of 6 for 73 yards, with a 117.4 QB rating.
Gabbert did not actually face nearly as much pressure against the Seahawks as I would have expected. In 30 drop-backs against the Falcons, Gabbert was pressured on 15. In 30 drop-backs against the Seahawks, he was pressure 12 times. Here is how he did against pressure and without pressure in each game:
The Seahawks did a better job closing the deal when they did get pressure, and it cost the 49ers offense. This week, the 49ers face a Cardinals defensive front that is struggling. They rank No. 24 in sacks, and Football Outsiders ranks the unit No. 27 in adjusted sack rate. This could be a big opportunity for Gabbert and the 49ers offense.
While the 49ers offense had its struggles at times against Seattle, Gabbert did a good job picking on the Seahawks biggest weakness on defense. Their Cover-3 has been unable to contain tight ends, and Gabbert and company went after that weakness. The Cardinals have done well against tight ends and the top two receivers. They have struggled a bit against running backs and wide receiver further down the depth chart. It'd be nice to have Reggie Bush right about now, but I could see Travaris Cadet getting some opportunities out of the backfield.
Whatever the 49ers defense can do against the Cardinals prolific offense, Blaine Gabbert and this offense are going to need to get some work in. I don't think they'll need to put up 30+ points, but 20+ is probably necessary for a win. No offense to Shaun Draughn, but the 49ers need something big from the passing attack.
I can say with absolute honesty that at the beginning of the season, I did not think I'd be curious about a Blaine Gabbert start this season. That has changed pretty quickly. He put up a decent performance against Seattle, making him the first 49ers quarterback to do that in some time. He benefited from some Seahawks mistakes, but he has also built some momentum to build on heading into this third start.
I think in this start, we could very well see 200 or so yards and a couple touchdowns, with 20 or so rushing yards. That's probably on the optimistic end, but I don't think it's entirely out of the realm of the possible at home.