Jimmy Garoppolo made it easy for the Titans. As a result, the Niners' momentum takes a halt as they make their playoff push. Head coach Kyle Shanahan may need to reorganize a few things to put this team back on track.
We take a look at my five takeaways below.
49ers offense couldn't capitalize in the first half
Shanahan used a balanced attack of running and passing on their opening drive. He watched his offense drive 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. Garoppolo looked dialed in with his decisiveness, and the running game looked to be successful early.
The offense moved the ball effectively on the second offensive drive until Garoppolo’s red zone target to George Kittle. Jackrabbit (Janoris) Jenkins made a good play on the ball, but Kittle could have helped his quarterback by working back to the ball.
Kittle was not targeted for the rest of the game. It’s the first time in his career he went three straight quarters without a target in a single game, Shanahan does what he usually does after a Garoppolo turnover, and that is water down the offense.
Garoppolo and the offense were able to get a field goal out of their third drive after a missed opportunity for a touchdown. I’ve complained about the Niners being able to score despite them having the highest red zone scoring percentage in the NFL.
Offensive drives that have stalled have hindered the team this season and Thursday was about closing the door on Tennessee. I’m not saying that the game would be over, but San Francisco had several opportunities to extend the lead going into halftime.
Garoppolo and company rolled out with 1:20 remaining in the first half without threatening the Titans to score. Shanahan deciding not to go after points after moving the ball well for three straight drives directly reflects the quarterback.
Garoppolo cannot carry the offense
Garoppolo was turnover-free in his last two games (Bengals and Falcons), but he resorted to inadvertent throws in a playoff atmosphere Thursday. The eight-year veteran has held the vertical passing game back for several seasons, and his record with a turnover is awful.
Ultimately, Garoppolo has not shown any signs of improvement through his five years as a 49er. The weight of the offense returned to Garoppolo when the rushing attack became stagnant.
#49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo tonight:— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) December 24, 2021
20-22, 186 yards, TD on throws of 5 or fewer air yards
6-13, 136 yards, 2 Int on throws of more than 5 air yards
Garoppolo’s miss to Kyle Juszczyck on the Niners’ third offensive possession may have been the most deflating play of the game. My stance on Garoppolo is that he isn’t the worst quarterback in the NFL, but San Francisco doesn't usually win because of him. His shiny record as the 49ers quarterback has been heavily supported by Shanahan’s play-calling.
Shanahan choosing to play with a limited quarterback with 62 career games under his belt over the dynamic rookie is simple-minded. Garoppolo hit several good throws during his “good” playing stretch, but it comes and goes. The liability at quarterback remains the reason why this team likely won't go far in the playoffs.
Is it too late to open the quarterback competition?
I mentioned that San Francisco should stay with Garoppolo at this point, but enough is enough. It’s time for Shanahan to unleash Lance so he can bring a dynamic aspect to the 49er quarterback position. This season has been a waste for Trey Lance’s development. Who is to say Lance will be ready next season after limited snaps this year?
Garoppolo’s “last hoorah” is over. This group of pass-catchers is the most polished Shanahan as had during his 49er tenure. Niners should easily have three 1,000 yard receivers, but Garoppolo continued struggles as a passer limit the ceiling of this offense.
Let Lance ease in with the Houston Texans so he can be comfortable going to SoFi Stadium to square off against the Los Angeles Rams for the season finale. Lance does not have to carry the ball 15 plus times to impact the running game. But, he can use his legs to scramble and extend drives.
Shanahan’s plan to use Lance on quarterback-designed runs in Week 5 was a hard watch. My main reasoning for playing Lance is not only the dynamic factor, but if he is bad you can turn back to Garoppolo. I hate to make it sound simpler than it is but this offense is dying for a breath of fresh air.
Brown comes off Injured Reserve to destroy the Niners
A.J. Brown has played at an elite level since he entered the NFL in 2019. The Niners’ secondary limited him in the first quarter, but he started to heat up in the second. Brown was a “stretch” to play, and he ended up being one of the most dominant players on the field.
A.J. Brown says 3rd down is the money down. That's why he kicked it to another gear. 11 rec, 8 of them on 3rd down. That's the most on 3rd down in a game in last 30 seasons. Also listen to him describe the rehab process. #Titans pic.twitter.com/xLZMp2dDDb— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) December 24, 2021
Brown’s performance was deflating because he singlehandedly destroyed the defense on third down. His 42-yard catch on 3rd and 23 at the end of the third quarter was the second most explosive play of the game.
It was rough to watch the defense not be able to contain Brown who leads me to my next point. The cornerback group will remain at risk and will need a crucial upgrade in the offseason to keep this defense afloat in the future.
San Franciso’s defense missed opportunities on third down which helped leave the door open for a Titans victory.
Cornerbacks remain the (second) weakest link on the team
Garoppolo is the weakest link on the team, but the cornerback room is pretty close. The defense needs Emmanuel Moseley back immediately so he can help this substandard group.
Losing Jason Verrett in Week 1 set the defense back a tier. However. the defense has still played at a high level. Russell Gage got the best of Ambry Thomas last week, and Brown was unguardable this week. It worries me having an inferior cornerback group heading into the playoffs where the NFC has a wide array of talented receivers.
The 49ers will have to evaluate all of their positions after the season, but I think cornerback is the top priority in the offseason. Get DeMeco Ryans a man-to-man corner so he can optimize his play-calling. Ryans has left his cornerbacks on islands regardless of talent level, and it has been exploited.
The Super Bowl window is likely closed, but there is still reasoning to have hope with this team. I still believe in this defense despite the liability at cornerback. Shanahan’s offense had their lowest-scoring game since Week 9 after having three strong drives to start the game.
Giving the keys of the offense to Lance is likely a long shot,, meaning Garoppolo has to play better. Garoppolo forces Shanahan to restrict play-calling when he turns the ball over. People have highlighted that Garoppolo leads the NFL in yards per attempt but have ignored that he is 13th in completed air yards.
The “Yac Bros” have helped Garoppolo out, but he has to push the ball down the field. San Francisco may get to 10 wins with Garoppolo at quarterback, but it should've been more this season.
The 49ers need to capitalize with this extended rest and prepare for their next two opponents with a win or go home mentality. The Texans and Rams both have tough opponents this week as they face the Los Angeles Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens.
It’s not the end of the world after this Titans lost, and I hope everyone has a Happy Holidays!