Eight passing attempts. That’s all it took for the San Francisco 49ers to trounce the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium this past Sunday night en route to their 7th NFC Championship title and quest for a 6th Super Bowl ring. Well, that and 42 rushing attempts at an average of 6.8 yards per rush. From the first snap of the night, all the way up until the final whistle blew, the Niners dominated the Packers at the point of attack on the offensive side of the ball. There was no need to deviate from the original plan: smashmouth football right from the get-go.
Many have suggested that this 49ers team is built to run-first, and would dread having to turn to their “system quarterback” to win football games. While the team is equipped to run the football with their excellent stable of running backs, all-world tight end, and multi-dimensional fullback, this narrative is far from the truth. San Francisco can paralyze you from the air as much as they can from the ground. That all starts with the premier talent at QB: Jimmy Garoppolo.
Let’s throw out an anonymous comparison:
QB1, 15 games:
- 69.1 Completion %, 3,603 yards, 26 TD, 107.4 rating, 8.1 Yards per Attempt
QB2, 16 games
- 69.1 Completion %, 3,978 yards, 27 TD, 102.0 rating, 8.4 Yards per Attempt
QB3, 14 games
- 65.9 Completion %, 4,031 yards, 26 TD, 105.3 rating, 8.3 Yards per Attempt
Any football mind from the casual fan all the way up to the analytics junkie would say that these three QBs had eerily similar seasons. QB1 is Kirk Cousins, QB2 is Jimmy Garoppolo, and QB3 is Patrick Mahomes. Now, I left off one crucial stat that would have given the comparison away, and that was interceptions thrown (6, 13, 5, respectively). Jimmy certainly has made his fair share of bad decisions this season but still deserves to be mentioned amongst the top tier of passers in this league, especially when it’s crunch time.
Garoppolo refuses to fold under pressure - he delivers his most clutch performances when it matters most. Per Al Sacco, Jimmy’s stats in the 4th quarter of games this season: 70% completion, 8.33 YPA (yards per attempt), 6 TD’s, 1 INT. When trailing in-game: 73%, 9.1 YPA, 11 TD’s, 3 INT. Finally, trailing under 4 minutes to go: 68%, 7.1 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT. So much for the burden of the San Francisco offense holding them back when the team needs a score.
Outside of shining when the game is on the line, Jimmy has played exceptionally well all season and has staked his claim as a top passer in many different categories. Out of QBs with at least 350 attempts this year, Jimmy sits at 4th in PFF’s adjusted completion % (accounts for throw-aways, dropped passes, batted passes, spiked balls & QB hits). He also places 4th in the same metric while facing pressure, a testament to staying cool amid a tumultuous backfield. When the 49ers utilize play-action, Jimmy ranks 3rd among QBs with at least 100 attempts in YPA and has a 109.3 rating. He also ranks third in the league in overall YPA and has lead four 4th quarter comebacks, to go along with four game-winning drives. Oh, and he’s also 22-5 as a starting QB in the NFL.
The 49ers are indeed capable of winning games solely on the ground, as we saw this past Sunday. However, there seems to be a bit of recency bias occurring, as many folks are quick to point out that the 49ers don’t need star QB play to win games, or that Jimmy is their Achilles heel. The 49ers went 13-3 during the regular season, and Garoppolo never attempted less than 20 passes. That’s the entire season - all 16 games. In their two playoff games since, he has attempted 19 & 8, respectively. This so-called “trend” is far from what’s been happening all year.
During arguably their most impressive regular-season win against the Saints in the Superdome, Garoppolo attempted 35 passes. He finished with a 74% completion, 349 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, & 9.97 YPA. In the season finale against Seattle with the #1 seed on the line, he tossed the ball 22 times and completed 81.82% of his throws for 285 yards at 12.95 YPA. He finished with the highest PFF passing grade of Week 17 across the entire league. You tell me if this “Achilles heel” of the 49ers offense is capable of putting the team on his back when they need him to.
If the Chiefs come out in full force to stop the run at all costs next Sunday, don’t fret. The 49ers are capable of relying on their star QB’s arm to not only stay competitive but win a shootout against the famed Chiefs pass offense.