The numbers that Jimmy Garoppolo put up against the Cardinals in 2019 don’t do him justice—which is saying something, as they were OK. In two games on 82 throws, Garppolo averaged 370 yards per game, four touchdowns, a 76.7 quarterback rating (Patrick Mahomes had a 77 QBR last year), all while averaging a hair under ten yards per attempt. Jimmy was fantastic, but his placement on some of those throws, specifically to Emmanuel Sanders, is why people like myself are and will continue to be tough on Garoppolo. His flashes are more than that as they pop up for full games at a time. This year, I want, as does his coach, Jimmy, to be consistent. He’ll have a chance to get off to a hot start on Sunday.
Corralling Chandler Jones
There’s no doubt that Jones versus Trent Williams is one of the marquee matchups in Week 1 across the NFL. I’m not sure how much we see these two go against each other. Jones rushed from the defenses right edge 42% of the time in 2019. If you’re Arizona’s defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, you’d think that number would be closer to 20% than 40% if you’re giving your guy the best chance to win.
In two games last year against San Francisco, Jones had two sacks, two quarterback hits, and four stops. During the second matchup, Jones got the best of right tackle Mike McGlinchey time and time again. In McGlinchey’s defense, that happened to a lot of offensive tackles that faced Jones in their career. Last season, Jones had 19 sacks and 11 QB hits. He’s a terror, and the 49ers’ tight ends and running backs will be equally as important as their tackles to make sure Jones is far away from Garoppolo.
Beware of Budda
Budda Baker was beaten in coverage against one of the best players in the NFL last season, and 49ers fans painted the picture that Baker is a bad player. In two games against the Niners, Baker had 23 tackles (11 were stops), three pass breakups, and a QB hit. He was everywhere and is one of those players that’s a nuisance to game-plan against. Baker’s effort is similar to Kittle’s, where he gives you everything he has on every play.
Baker is a chess piece that Garoppolo must be aware of pre-snap. The Cardinals don’t have nearly the number of difference makers that the Niners do on defense, but Baker and Jones two of the best at their positions.
Why the Niners will be much-improved on the ground
I doubt the plan coming into both games against the Cardinals was to throw the ball all over the place for San Francisco. The 49ers struggled to run the ball against Arizona last season. In both games, San Francisco ran the ball 50 times for 150 yards. Three yards per carry? Really? Well, Arizona did have the sixth-best defense against the run, per DVOA.
Context is key here. In Week 9, Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill started at left tackle. Kyle Juszczyk did not play. I’m the biggest fanboy of Brunskill on the planet, but he’s not in the same stratosphere as a run blocker as McGlinchey. Juice makes the offense go, as we’ve seen. Then you swap Skule out for Trent Williams? Yes, please. During Week 11, there was still no Joe Staley at left tackle, and George Kittle didn’t play. For a team that relies as much on wide zone as the 49ers do, it’s impossible to replace those two, specifically. Finally, Raheem Mostert had seven carries in both games. Something tells me that number will be slightly higher this season against Arizona.
In the first play of the game in Week 9, the 49ers ran a sweep to the left, and Jones beats Ross Dwelley and makes a tackle in the backfield. The next carry, Skule can’t get to the second level against the linebacker, and it’s a tackle for loss. Kyle Shanahan saw the running game wasn’t working, so he ditches the zone scheme and switches to a gap scheme. On the next two carries, Mike Person and Skule both blow a block, and the result is three total yards.
Do you see a trend here? Those players will not play on Sunday. It would be tough to average worse than three yards per carry, but it’s safe to assume the 49ers rushing attack will be improved come Sunday. Going an entire game without an explosive running play is rare for a Shanahan-led offense. The 49ers made linebackers Jordan Hicks and Joe Walker, the same player who was not one of the five-best linebackers in training camp, look like stars. Arizona is athletic on defense, but the 49ers offensive line will be at full health.
It’s difficult to project what the 49ers passing attack will do against Arizona as we don’t know which wideouts will suit up. Shanahan has had all offseason to figure out which plays work best against Vance Joseph. This is the most significant mismatch in the game and why I’d be surprised if San Francisco scores fewer than 27 points on Sunday. If they execute, the offense should light up the scoreboard. Something tells me Shanahan will let out some frustration after having to face his defense all camp.