The 49ers offense looked flat on Sunday against Tampa Bay but only if you look at the box score. Not sure we’d be saying that today if not for a series of unfortunate events that took points off the board or a quarterback who looked semi-uncomfortable.
The 49ers offense accounted for 18 of the 49ers 31 points, with the defense accounting for the rest off two pick-sixes, in their 31 to 17 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday in week one. The scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story though, and that is that the score should’ve been at least 45-17 if not for two touchdowns erased by penalties.
The other takeaway is that in Jimmy Garoppolo’s first game back as a starter, he did not look comfortable throwing from the pocket and missed several open receivers that he either didn’t see or was off target in his passing attempt. At this point, this is just what he is, and it is not to say he can’t or won’t get better, but he has a tall mountain to climb to get back to 100%.
Despite all that, the 49ers offense still generally got players wide open for the quarterback, but a lack of execution all around from the mental mistakes to missed throws stifled any positive that we could take away from their performance.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s continued struggles
Garoppolo continued to struggle to see the field, and at this point in his career in this offense, he should see these routes develop sooner than he does. It’s a struggle of his I detailed recently, and it’s one that he had issues with before the injury.
Kittle seemed to be Garoppolo’s favorite target the entire game, accumulating ten total targets. The next leading receivers had three targets.
On this play, the 49ers are running a scissors concept inside the red zone with tight end George Kittle on the deep corner route and receiver Kendrick Bourne on the deep post route. The Buccaneers are in a modified quarter’s coverage deep in their own territory. The play call is a good one because it gets the corner and safety isolated and alone.
Garoppolo’s first read is the corner route and he stays locked on to Kittle through the entire sequence, evades the pass rush and fires the pass down field to Kittle. The pass is too far inside against a defender who has inside leverage on the receiver.
At the moment he was throwing the pass, he should have come off Kittle and looked to Bourne, who had at least six yard cushion on the defender in front of him. Or the pass to Kittle should’ve been more outside toward the corner of the end zone.
Garoppolo did have a chance later in the second quarter to target Bourne for an opportunity at a score but was again impatient with his read and threw it into double coverage instead of either waiting for Bourne to come open on the dig route or moving on to Kittle in the middle of the field, which was open on the post route.
They’re running a dagger concept with Bourne on the dig route and Kittle on the post route. The play is designed to pull the middle of the defense toward the post so that the dig is open behind it.
The safety stays on the hash in his quarter’s assignment, forcing Garoppolo to throw behind Bourne and fit it into a window that he has not comfortably been able to hit in a while. The pass sails behind Bourne to the defender, but he is unable to catch it.
One of the more frustrating things about Garoppolo right now is his inability to read the squatting corner against a cover-2 shell. Kyle Shanahan has several designed cover-2 beaters he likes to run to isolate the safety on the slot receiver but three occasions now, Garoppolo has thrown three interceptions (one last season in Minnesota, one in the preseason against Denver, one that was dropped by the corner in Denver in the same game, and this one here against Tampa Bay), and two pick-sixes.
They’re running a hitch/seam concept called “patriot” against the cover-2 shell of the Bucs to the left side of the offensive formation. Garoppolo motions Tevin Coleman out of the backfield to a spot outside the numbers.
Coleman drives up and runs the hitch but corner Vernon Hargreaves doesn’t bail with him and sits on top of the route with his eyes in the back field reading the quarterback. He breaks on the pass before Coleman even turns around, intercepts it, and returns it for a pick six.
Garoppolo made what he called a “dumb decision” because he didn’t “see the corner flat footing out there” and stated that he “left the ball hanging too long.” He’s right, he has to do a better job of seeing the corner squat on those routes and move on.
Timing and lack of anticipation in the play action passing game
Aside from the throws where he wasn’t seeing the field or having them intercepted, he was throwing passes that were off target and frequently throwing behind guys on some bread and butter play action passing concepts.
The following play illustrates the timing and lack of anticipation Garoppolo struggled with on Sunday. He was either throwing passes that were off target and behind receivers or was rushing his process and impatient with his reads.
The play-action burner concept here is a staple of the Shanahan play-action passing game. Garoppolo has Bourne on the deep crossing route, and it’s a throw that was wide open if he had wait just a fraction longer for Bourne to clear the middle linebacker. Instead, he rushed the throw and as a result, had to throw it over the top of the linebacker. The pass was too high for Bourne to coral.
Here Garoppolo executes a play-action fake before turning and firing to receiver Marquise Goodwin on the over route. He doesn’t look comfortable rolling out to his left (that direction requires him to plant on his rehabbed knee), but this throw isn’t even in the same vicinity as Goodwin.
This play comes on the same drive. It’s an off-target throw to Kittle down the sideline. The pass has too much air under it, and he needed to get it down, especially with the safety coming across. This is a play that if completed, Kittle probably gets a huge gain.
This is another play where if the ball is thrown to a spot, the receiver can catch it in stride. It could be huge. Play action passes were virtually non-existent in the first half and became a staple of the second half, but Garoppolo could not throw them accurately enough for the offense to get any value from them.
This pass is behind Goodwin and would’ve required a difficult adjustment at the catch point. If this pass is in front of him, it is at the very least a considerable gain.
Is there anything wrong with the offense?
The offense’s execution was decent in general minus the penalties that negated the touchdowns. And Shanahan is still getting guys to run free through the secondary and substantial net gains. The offensive performance wasn’t as bleak as it appeared though.
The first big play came on a mesh crosser concept that works to stretch a defense, particularly against man coverage laterally. It creates a natural pick element due to the shallow crossing routes.
Garoppolo audibles to an empty formation, a 3x2 set with the trips to the right. Coleman on the right and Juszczyk on the left are running the shallow crossing routes against the Bucs man coverage cover-1 shell. As Coleman and Juszczyk cross, their defenders collide, springing Coleman open as Garoppolo throws. Coleman gains 31 yards on the play.
The offense finally scored its first official touchdown of the game when Garoppolo found receiver Richie James down the sideline on a “stalk rail” route. The route works in conjunction with the play action as James sells like he’s going to block (stalk technique) and then takes off down the numbers (rail route).
The Bucs get caught rotating down to the passing strength in a cover-1 robber call, leaving James 1-on-1 with the defender. Garoppolo tosses a perfectly placed pass and hits James in stride for the touchdown.
The 49ers also had only one series in the game where they recorded a three-and-out. They did just enough to stay ahead of the chains, were kept alive by a couple of penalties, and for the most part, were running free through the secondary as they could not get anything significant going in the run game.
Had at least two touchdowns not been called back for penalties, the narrative surrounding the offense might have changed a bit.
The first penalty that negated a touchdown came when fullback Kyle Juszczyk was trying to get across the field on a crossing route. He ran into two defenders, one of which slipped and fell after the fact, and a flag was thrown as Kittle jogged untouched into the end zone
The second notable penalty happened with Garoppolo again found Kittle, this time over the middle alone against the safety.
Kittle trucks the defender and races alone into the end zone for the touchdown. However, that too would be negated by a tough penalty.
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey was flagged for an illegal formation penalty. Rule 3-19-3-Item 1 for non-snapper’s states that “If he is not the snapper, no part of his body is permitted to be in the neutral zone at the snap, and his helmet must break a vertical plane that passes through the beltline of the snapper.”
It looks close on the broadcast angle, but McGlinchey is probably just a hair outside that plane and therefore too deep in the backfield. They could have probably let it go, but in this case, McGlinchey had already likely been warned about his depth and got flagged when he didn’t correct it.
The refs called a tight game, but the 49ers still must correct these mental errors in week two.
It’s hard to tell sometimes if week one will tell us anything definitive about a given team. The 49ers were still able to execute some of their most basic bread and butter concepts in the passing and running game while the mental mistakes held them back. If they can clean up the offensive penalties and continue to get guys open in space and hit the easy play-action throws, then the offense will grow and look much better than it did in week one. They face a tough task in week two against the Bengals.