In part one of this series, we looked at where quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo thrives. In part two here, we’ll look at where he struggles and needs to improve.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo represents the best of both worlds. He’s shown elite ability as an NFL quarterback, making plays outside the structure, making NFL throws other quarterbacks can’t make, possessing a quick release, and being highly accurate to all levels of the field.
Still, there are areas where that makes fans question whether or not he can be consistently good and sustain the kind of success he had as a starter in 2017. 2018 did not start well. He threw three interceptions in a Week 1 loss nearly gave the game away in Week 2 were it not for a pick-six called back by defensive holding, and had trouble finding a rhythm in Week 3 before a season-ending injury.
The preseason in 2019 did not start well and picked up right where he left in 2018. The quarterback looked uncomfortable against Denver, completing one pass for zero yards, one interception, and one dropped interception. He would finally find some consistency in Week 3 of the preseason, and hopefully, that is what carries over into Week 1 this season.
But to get there, he’ll need to improve on some things he did exceptionally poorly last season and this preseason.
Lack of field vision
In Week 1, Garoppolo right away made some forced errors that put them behind the chains and kept them off schedule. On a third and seven on the 49ers’ first drive, Shanahan dialed up what he calls “spin flat,” which gives Garoppolo two in-breaking dig routes at different levels to beat zone coverage or work away from man coverage with outside leverage. Kittle is running the inside dig (“short basic” route) and Garçon running the outside deeper dig (“short dover” route).
The Vikings take away the outside route with the defender on Garçon’s inside hip. Garoppolo locks onto Kittle, and either doesn’t see the linebacker playing the underneath curl zone or figures he can still fit the pass into Kittle. The linebacker drops right into the throwing lane as they bracket Kittle across the middle of the field.
Taylor was open on the flat route as the third option, and while he may not have picked up the first down, it would have been a better decision to throw there instead of forcing a pass into coverage.
Lack of timing
Staying with Week 1, the 49ers had an opportunity for a touchdown and are running a simple sail concept on the left side of the formation on third and six.
Tevin Coleman on "Dbl Left Off 2 Scat H Scissors Flat F Shallow". Coleman lines up in the backfield and runs the corner route underneath the deep post. Great red zone play. #49wz pic.twitter.com/dKTvoWnlvp— rich madrid (@richjmadrid) March 15, 2019
It’s a favorite play of Shanahan’s in the red zone, as you can see above in a similar concept to sail called “scissors.”
The sail concept is a sideline levels route concept that seeks to put an outside defensive back into conflict by running a levels combo and forcing him to play underneath or drop under the deep route. Garçon is running the deep corner route while Kittle is running the shallow out route to the flat.
The Vikings nickel defender drops with Kittle as Garcon starts to come open on the corner route. The cornerback running with Breida is step for step with him watching Garoppolo’s eyes. At this point in the play, Garoppolo is at the top of his drop and through his first hitch. He should be throwing the pass to Garcon right now after his first hitch.
Things move quick in the NFL.
As he winds up to throw, he hitches a second time, allowing the defenders to sink under the pass and put a big hit on Garcon as the ball arrives. Garçon can’t hang on, and it’s a missed opportunity for a touchdown, just one of several missed in the end zone either due to (in this case) quarterback error or receiver error.
Garoppolo had two more missed opportunities for touchdowns in that same game, both passes intended for Kittle too.
The 49ers are running “smack gator,” also known as “HOSS Y/F/Z juke.” It’s a great cover three beater with two verticals run at the single-high safety. The safety plays the vertical down the left hash, leaving Kittle 1-on-1 with his defender. Garoppolo makes the right read, makes a nice move to avoid the rush in the pocket, but overshoots his target, who was a step ahead of safety Harrison Smith.
Another missed opportunity occurred late in the game and would’ve given the 49ers a chance at a comeback when Garoppolo missed Kittle wide open in the back of the end zone with a high throw.
Lack of field vision
In Week 2 last season, Garoppolo was sacked six times, four of which I determined were avoidable if he had just pulled the trigger to the open receivers in the progression.
On this sack, the 49ers are running a high-low concept on third-and-8 that has Trent Taylor running a deep curl over the middle and receiver Dante Pettis running the underneath crossing route. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk comes out of the backfield and into the flat as the backside check down.
The post-snap reveals the Lions are in a cover two-man defense (two deep safeties with man coverage underneath). As Garoppolo drops back, Taylor’s route is triple covered, immediately taking away the throw for the first down at the sticks. As Garoppolo sets to throw, Pettis is open on the underneath crossing route with ample separation.
As Garoppolo resets to throw, he looks at Pettis but hesitates. Pettis is running free at this point and is open. By this time, former 49ers linebacker Eli Harold (no. 57) splits the double team of left guard Laken Tomlinson (no. 75) and left tackle Joe Staley (no. 74) on his way to recording the sack.
On some sacks, he doesn’t feel the pressure quick enough to know when to get rid of it on the underneath outlets.
Garoppolo has Taylor as the #3 inside slot receiver running a shallow cross. He’s immediate as the other routes in the progression are still developing. Former Chiefs defensive end Dee Ford, now with the 49ers, beats left tackle Joe Staley around the edge as Garoppolo is deciding where to go with the pass. Taylor is open and had Garoppolo felt the pressure; he would’ve likely dumped it off over the middle.
Interceptions are bad. I think we all agree. But they can be the product of either quarterback or receiver error. In some cases, both, in Garoppolo’s case, mainly his fault.
When Garoppolo is rushed, he tends to make poor decisions that lead to adverse outcomes. In this case a pick-six in Minnesota. The concept is what Shanahan calls “flag water” where the slot runs a flag route and the outside receiver runs a stick china route (out cut, pivot back inside).
The Vikings sent a fire zone blitz overloaded to the offenses right side with three defenders rushing the B and C gap around the right tackle. Pre-snap shows off coverage over Pettis by the safety, and it is here that some kind of check should’ve been made to get Pettis the ball early. Instead, as Garoppolo drops back, the rush penetrates the backfield, and he attempts an off-target throw to the curl run by Bourne.
He had time to throw the ball one way or another. He was going to get hit regardless. If he made no hot read to Pettis pre-snap, he still could’ve put enough mustard on a pass to Pettis on the flag route at the sideline. As it is, Bourne didn’t help matters by running the wrong route. He should’ve pivoted back inside.
Some of his interceptions were truly baffling, like this one intended for Matt Breida on a quick out route on a drive where the 49ers were trying to put the game away against Detroit. If not for defensive holding on the other side of the field, the Lions likely would’ve sealed the win with the pick-six.
He started the 2019 preseason where he left off.
Against Denver, he threw one interception where, again, the pressure forced him into an unnecessary decision.
They’re running a curl/seam concept to the left side with Breida coming out of the backfield on the seam route. The Broncos are in man coverage with the safety occupied by the crossing route of Kittle. Bradley Chubb penetrated the B-gap next to Staley with relative ease and forced Garoppolo to throw a pass out to either Goodwin or Breida, who end up in the same vicinity, though a curl/seam combination is favorable to getting a 1-on-1 match-up with the seam route if the corner sits on the curl.
Depending on who you believe, the pass was either a throwaway or intended for Goodwin. Shanahan stated after the game that he thought Garoppolo was throwing it away. Garoppolo had a bit of a different take, stating that he thought he made a bad decision throwing the pass to an area where the corner was sitting on the curl route.
Nonetheless, it was not an ideal situation and one where the quarterback should’ve probably eaten the sack.
Garoppolo’s second drive would end slightly better but not ideal as he threw what would’ve been a pick-six on the same concept he threw the pick-six on in Minnesota.
They’re running the “flag water” concept again, and Garoppolo again doesn’t feel the pressure. He locks on to Matthews running the stick china route and throws the pass too far inside. He has room in front of him to make a hitch move or subtle movement to buy time and attempt a pass to Pettis on the flag route but instead throws too far inside. The defender drops the interception.
These issues are correctable, and we’ve seen him be brilliant in the face of pressure in his first stint with the 49ers in 2017, when he led the league in completion percentage and yards per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus’ Signature Stats database. One could reasonably assume that his injury played some sort of a role in his poor initial outing this preseason, but he regressed under pressure in 2018 before the injury, and some of the issues looked the same. It will definitely be the thing I am most interested in monitoring this season from him.