The 49ers offense laid the biggest egg in the most important game to this point in the season. It was a game that would eventually tell us a lot about this team, their opponent, and what the future may bring going forward. A win against a division opponent would’ve been a big momentum shift in an otherwise bland season to this point. A loss all but ensures that half of their season is over and 4-4, even the seventh playoff spot at this point seems out of reach.
And let’s be clear. This game was not lost on the back of the defense. They came out on fire and held off the Seahawks until a late first-quarter touchdown got them on the board first. After that, they did all they could to keep the Seahawks out of the end zone. But at some point, the offense was going to need to carry its fair share of the load this season, especially in the gauntlet of their schedule, and they did not accomplish that task. Eventually, the injuries were going to catch up to them.
Jimmy Garoppolo eventually left the game in the 3rd quarter when he appeared to re-injury his hurt ankle on a sack, paving the way for an attempted comeback by back-up Nick Mullens. While admirable (even in garbage time), Mullen’s outing had a chance to bring the team to within eight points, but he threw a two-point conversion pass low that caused running back Jerick McKinnon to have to go to the ground to catch it. Had he hit McKinnon in stride, McKinnon walks in, and the 49ers are down eight with just over four minutes left.
Instead, they were down 10. The Seahawks would punch another one in, and so would the 49ers, but that was it. And one could easily make the argument that the game was lost on the first two drives of the game due in large part to Garoppolo’s early struggles.
Jimmy G’s struggles stall the offense
Their first two drives set the tone for an abysmal performance. And in the hierarchy of blame, the quarterback shares the lion’s share of it. Then there was the third-down play call early on the first drive that was completely head-scratching, but two plays before that, Jimmy Garoppolo overthrew a wide-open George Kittle over the middle, similar to the interception he threw against New England. Had Kittle not gotten his hand on it, this too likely would’ve been picked.
1st quarter 12:00, 1st-and-10 at the SEA 42
Garoppolo is usually on target and highly accurate over the middle of the field, but this season, even pre-ankle injury, he has struggled with placement on the intermediate throws beyond 10 yards. The ankle injury could still be a problem, but he’s really struggled since the playoffs last season with his over-the-middle placement.
Here Garoppolo has a chance to hit Kittle over the middle running a chevy post route over the top of a choice route. The concept is a good cover-2/quarters splitter as it takes advantage of the seam in front of the safeties and behind the seam/curl/flat defender occupied by the choice route.
Garoppolo breaks open over the middle of the field in the box between the safeties and underneath hook defenders. The window is open for the throw to move the chains. Garoppolo misfires the pass too far in front of Kittle, who is able to lunge at full extension to get his hand on the pass, but it falls incomplete.
Two plays later on a very manageable third-and-5, Shanahan elected to go into a wildcat formation, and run zone read with McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty.
1st quarter 11:12, 3rd-and-5 at the SEA 37
The play call didn’t work. And it’s not at all clear why Shanahan thought this was the play to call but whether or not he trusted his quarterback in that situation and chose to take the ball out of his hands is very telling. Either Shanahan made a bad decision, or he doesn’t trust Garoppolo, either way, the play in that situation was very bizarre.
Shanahan said he liked the play during the practice install in that situation, but after the game said it was not ideal against Seattle’s cover-0 blitz. McKinnon is reading defensive end Damontre Moore, who just gets an excellent burst up-field to disrupt the play. Seattle did not have to worry about a pass with their zero coverage because there was not a quarterback within 15 yards of the spot of the ball, so they were in prime position to play the run from the start.
Seattle’s blitz and pressure packages force Garoppolo to hurry his throws
Seattle used a variety of five, and six-man rushes with linebacker Bobby Wagner as their best pass rusher on Sunday. Wagner led all Seahawks defenders with six total pressures (two sacks, two hits, and two hurries). And he largely did it up the middle against Hroniss Grasu.
2nd quarter 12:17, 2nd-and-7 at the SEA 33
The 49ers run a basic stick/flat concept to the left on second-and-7, a simple ball control, and move the stick type of play. The Seahawks sent a six-man pressure with Wagner up the middle. Both Grasu and Hasty are unable to contain Wagner, but Garoppolo can still get the pass off to Bourne on the stick route.
Bourne ends up slipping and misses the pass, but it looks slightly off target anyway. He still catches it if he keeps his feet, so it’s not a huge issue. But the Seahawks pressures forced the 49ers offense into quicker, shorter throws after this point.
Grasu didn’t have a good game in the trenches. On Wagner’s first sack of the game, he’s in the A-gap over Grasu and sped past him after executing a 2-hand swipe. The all-pro linebacker is just too fast for Grasu.
2nd quarter 1:23, 3rd and 13 at the SF 27
The Seahawks send another six-man pressure, and the 49ers have enough to block it up, but Wagner slips by Grasu fairly easily, forcing Garoppolo to hold and take the sack. Garoppolo needed to help out his blockers, though, too.
Wagner potentially blitzing means that the underneath crosser is likely going to be open. Especially against off coverage. In Shanahan’s playbook, the shallow crosser is always the hot route because it’s run into an area usually vacated by blitzing defenders.
And the Seahawks came prepared for some of the concepts the 49ers diced them up on last season, specifically the RPO dart.
2nd quarter 3:00, 1st and 15 at the SF 13
Last season, the 49ers hit the Seahawks a number of times on their RPO dart concept. The play is a quick slant on the backside with the option to hand off on an outside zone run play to the front side.
Garoppolo is reading Wagner, who reads run and first flows to the play side. The Seahawks sent a nickel blitz off the edge to force an early throw or deflect the pass on the backside. Garoppolo was forced to get rid of it a bit quicker than he wanted, and as a result, the pass was too far in front of receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
Seattle sim pressure
Seattle was also able to get pressure with just four rushers on simulated pressure alignments.
3rd quarter 13:44, 3rd and 4 at the SF 31
A sim pressure is designed to look like a blitz pressure pre-snap with multiple defenders crowding the box as potential rushers. At the snap, only four rushers will rush, though, and this can screw with the pass protection scheme as the blockers do not have a clear idea of who is going to rush from where.
Seattle is showing seven defenders in the box, all within three to four yards of the line of scrimmage, a sign to the offense that there is potentially a blitz called. But Seattle has a sim pressure on the two defenders to the defensive right dropping and rotating to cover the zones over the middle vacated by the second level’s rushers.
The defensive line slants to the right as D.J. Reed and Bobby Wagner rush and overloads the offensive line’s right side. The defenders spin to their zones behind the rush, covering the pass routes as Garoppolo tries to maneuver to find someone open.
Has Jimmy regressed, or was it always this way?
There’s been much talk about the injury hindering what Garoppolo has been able to do while in the pocket. That he doesn’t have the same drive on the ball or the same mobility. The truth is, he’s been that way since he’s been in uniform for the 49ers. The same issues he suffers from now are the same issues he suffered from since his first start in 2017.
I wrote about what I liked and disliked in his very telling, albeit limited game sample. And the things I disliked, such as a lack of timing, lack of field vision, and poor decision making, are front and center this season. And I held out hope that he could improve on these things and largely thought he would at some point. And he still might. But it likely won’t be with Shanahan because, in the NFL, you cannot wait for your $25 million assets to maybe improve at some point.
Sunday, everything I didn’t like was on display. The lack of timing. The bad decisions. The poor field vision. Poor ball placement. The interception and another potential third-down conversion throw highlight all of this in addition to the throws above earlier in the article.
1st quarter 4:13, 3rd and 5 at the SEA 20 (Interception)
This was an interception they could ill afford to take against a team with the worst pass defense in the league per Football Outsiders DVOA. It highlights what Garoppolo struggles with independent of the ankle injury as they are issues he’s routinely had pre ACL and pre ankle issues.
The 49ers motion to a 3x2 against Seattle’s single high coverage. The pre-snap advantage is to the trips side with two clearing routes and a stick china route underneath at the sticks run by Kittle. Each route would’ve been an infinitely better decision than any route progression on the left.
But at the snap, that’s exactly where Garoppolo’s eyes go. On that side, he has two receivers versus three defenders. So he already guessed wrong in his pre-snap read. It wouldn’t be such a big issue as he gives himself time to progress through his read across the field.
Had he dropped back and looked right first, he would’ve seen Bourne breaking open inside the five yard line or he could have hit a nice timing throw to Aiyuk on the out route at the sideline (which would’ve been a much more difficult throw, one that he is capable of making).
He ended up doing the worst thing imaginable and throwing behind Kittle in man coverage. And he still had time to ensure his pass was on target as there is virtually no pressure and has a clean pocket.
Later in the second quarter, Jimmy had a chance for a big gain and conversion on third down. They did end up converting on 4th down and scored later in the drive, but independent of the overall result, it’s one area he still needed to improve this season: field vision.
2nd quarter 12:14, 3rd and 7 at the SEA 33
The play is a levels concept on the left called “follow” with and under route by Aiyuk and a “basic” route in the slot by Bourne. The Seahawks are showing pressure again, and Bourne sees it coming off the edge, plus he does not have a defender covering him in the slot. Garoppolo’s eyes should automatically go to Bourne in this case.
However, Garoppolo does make the right read. He hits Aiyuk on the shallow under route, which is the designated hot route on this particular play. But sometimes, the result isn’t as important as the process, especially if it doesn’t get the intended result of converting on third down.
The Seahawks are in a zero pressure look with a six-man rush in front of them with four to rush against three to the left of the center in the 49ers scat pass protection. D.J. Reed and Bobby Wagner are right there to disrupt the throw’s timing, and Garoppolo can get it away for a completion, but Aiyuk is tackled short of the line.
The Seahawks gambled, leaving Bourne open with no safety help because they likely knew Garoppolo would rush the throw anyway, and he hasn’t shown he can hit the right guy to make a defense pay.
This could be the end of Jimmy G’s time in San Francisco, and it’s unfortunate how it ended if that’s the case. It’s much too early to speculate on the direction the 49ers would want to go, and Shanahan isn’t going to try and tank the season with Mullens at the helm. They’re going to try and remain competitive week after week and see where the chips fall.
Beyond that, we don’t know how the offseason will play out with the quarterback room after Garoppolo but moving on gives them the most freedom for retooling the roster around a potential rookie or veteran that comes available. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, though. For now, we’re on to Green Bay.