Another game, another last-second win after another strong two-minute drive. With Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm, this situation is becoming wonderfully predictable.
The NFL Network mic’ed up Garoppolo and put together an excellent Turning Point segment on that final drive, along with shorter and longer videos that give a real window into what makes him so effective.
Here’s a breakdown.
In the broadest sense, Garoppolo is as prepared as any quarterback since Aaron Rodgers, since he had the luxury of studying and practicing behind Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for four years.
More specifically, the Niners prep for two-minute drills relentlessly, and Garoppolo is right with the team, despite missing the offseason and half of the year. He explicitly linked their success to that prep work.
“The extra time that we put in ...with all the skill position players. The extra meetings we have, the stuff in practice, the extra routes, it’s starting to pay off now.”
The Turning Point video reveals that the team has single-digit, numbered plays for their hurry-up drives, and Garoppolo called them quickly and confidently.
The second play from scrimmage was a Six, with tight end George Kittle wide open on a crossing route for 24 yards, 10 of them after the catch. The TV announcer thought SF should then spike it to stop the clock (with 40 seconds left), but Jimmy G felt more like running a Two. That concept had four receivers, two on each side, cutting towards midfield at different levels — springing Marquise Goodwin (wide left, the deepest of the four) for 14 yards.
Boom - the Niners were in field goal range at the Tenneessee 30-yard line with 22 seconds left. They had driven 45 yards in 45 seconds. Now it was time to spike it.
The QB’s preparation continues during the game itself, as he plots strategy with his teammates. He told the post-game press conference that
“When the defense is out there, half the time I’m not even watching it to be honest. You’re going over what you’re doing for the next series. That’s part of the team game.”
Kyle Shanahan made an interesting point, that he doesn’t want quiet quarterbacks forcing themselves to talk a lot, because
“it becomes awkward. Players realize that fast and they don’t respect it.”
However, that’s not an issue with Garoppolo.
“I always say something to the offense before every drive. I’m always talking on the sideline.”
“He likes to talk a lot during the games to people and stuff. ... It’s very natural for Jimmy and I think that’s why they listen to him and respect what he has to say.”
You can see on the videos how verbal he is, with everything from motivation (“Hey! Big time drive now!”) to asking kicker Robbie Gould what yard line he needs to get to, to sharp analysis of the pass coverage.
In an amazing sequence starting at 2:39 of the Turning Point video, the QB is shown on the sideline diagnosing the defense and recommending moves to Trent Taylor, Kittle and Goodwin — followed in each case by the clip of the big gain that receiver picked up, unspooling exactly as he predicted.
3. Throwing accuracy
Intangibles are great but hitting receivers in stride is even better. 16 of those 45 yards on the winning drive were after the catch. Kaepernick or Beathard might have completed all 3 of those passes, but without those YAC, Gould would not have been in field goal range.
Call it confidence, calm, or (as Shanahan said) not getting too high or too low. But an essential part of Garoppolo’s leadership is his sense of belonging on this stage, and being big enough for it. He has trained and studied for years, won his first start on the road at Arizona (while at New England), and owns two Super Bowl rings.
The Turning Point video demonstrates better than any words how calm, collected and quick-thinking Garoppolo is under pressure. That inspires confidence in his teammates.
Sure, defensive backs play a bit of prevent coverage, opening things up underneath somewhat, and that’s part of the reason San Francisco has had success in the two minute drill. But that leadership is the real difference maker when the game is on the line.