One of the biggest (and most blown out of proportion) storylines in the NFL playoffs has been the San Francisco 49ers’ usage of Jimmy Garoppolo—or how it was unnecessary. The 49ers used Garoppolo for a spell in the Vikings game before turning to the run game, and then in the NFC Championship against Green Bay, they turned to Raheem Mostert to single handily demolish the Packers. Garoppolo went six-for-eight.
It turns out, that wasn’t the plan.
In his latest MMQB column Monday, Albert Breer talks about the rise of this insane 49ers run game. In the NFC Championship, even Kyle Shanahan didn’t plan on using Mostert the way he did and expected to be calling more pass plays:
The truth is, Shanahan and his staff didn’t see things playing out this way during the week. Going into last week’s game against the Vikings, they figured they’d have to run the ball more than 30 times to win. This week, the team thought they would have to be more balanced on offense to win the franchise’s seventh NFC title.
Then the actual game started. Tevin Coleman ripped off runs of five and four yards on the first two plays from scrimmage. He was stopped short of the sticks on third-and-one, thanks to a missed block on the edge, but it was clear the run game—which the 49ers initially planned to lean on to slow Green Bay’s twin-terror pass-rushers, Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith—was there for San Francisco.
The Smith Bros is why I think the 49ers went further into the run game. There are two plays in particular that stood out to me when I re-watched the game. The first was a roughing the passer call that put Garoppolo’s bionic knee into harm’s way. The second was where Garoppolo got chased out of the pocket and subsequently sacked when he rolled out. At that point, and given how the 49ers were gashing the Packers at 6-8 yards a clip, Shanahan probably said, “ok, defend this,” and put the run game on full display. It wasn’t worth taking sacks, nor was it worth risking Garoppolo’s leg to injury right before a possible Super Bowl if the 49ers didn’t have to.
A lot of you have brought up how the 49ers could be saving Garoppolo and the playbook for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. I jokingly mentioned it when I asked your thoughts on his inactivity in the NFC Championship. I doubt that was the plan going into this game, but using all those run plays may have had an added benefit of giving less tape to the Chiefs on Garoppolo passing on the last two weeks, which will let the 49ers go into this with some fresh plays to call. Most gameplans are installed using film from the last couple of games. Don’t doubt for a second that they will go further back to look at where Garoppolo airs it out (READ: New Orleans).
Either way, you look at it, the fact the Packers’ inability to stop the run thanks to their defense (and the substitutions that Shanahan took advantage of) will give the 49ers some fresh plays in the Super Bowl. This time, they won’t be able to get away with just running it.
Well. At least I think so.