Go back one year ago. It’s Week 2 of the 2017 NFL season and the San Francisco 49ers are 0-2, coming off a 12-9 loss in Seattle to the rival Seahawks. Brian Hoyer is the starting quarterback, and Kyle Shanahan’s high flying offense has scored 12 points in 2 games.
Let's jump back to the present. The 49ers have a franchise quarterback, and have scored 46 points in the first two weeks. The team is 1-1 with the one loss coming in Week 1 on the road against arguably the best team in the NFC.
In Week 2 Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball 26 times, and completed 18 of those throws for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns, on a day that saw the 49ers offense score 30 points. This is a solid day for an NFL quarterback, something this team has been searching for a long time. But yet, the talk is of Jimmy Garoppolo’s struggles. Some of the things I’m seeing on film are some of the mistakes he was making last season. Were there complaints during the 5-game win streak last season when Garoppolo missed a tight end high in the end zone? One thing has changed from last season to this season: expectations. Jimmy Garoppolo is now the franchise quarterback, and he's expected to play like one. Fans will no longer overlook the bad plays to focus on the good.
I want to start with a successful play from the quarterback. Garoppolo read this play well, noticing that the Lions are in man-to-man coverage, he was going to exploit the middle of the field. The weak-side, or “Will” linebacker, lcarries the running back out of the backfield, and the middle linebacker, or “Mike,” has to cover the second tight end running into the short-middle of the field.
Post-snap, the quarterback sees exactly what he expected pre-snap. The “Will” carries the running back and the “Mike” stays underneath in the middle of the field, creating a void for the tight end to exploit. He expects his tight end, George Kittle (#88) to win his one-on-one match-up.
Kittle beats the cornerback for a nice gain. Garoppolo throws the ball on time and it ends up being a big play for the offense.
This is a play that Kyle Shanahan clearly trusts, as he ran it inside his own 5-yard line. This is one of those plays that looks like three or four other plays that Kyle Shanahan runs on a regular basis. Play-action outside zone run fake with a boot, which we would normally would see thrown outside the numbers to a tight end or a fullback running across the formation. In this instance the Lions see that coming; their defense thinks they’ve got the play completely covered. But the tight end, who was run-blocking and just got beat by the defensive end, really wasn’t run blocking. He held the defensive end just long enough to let him think he beat him, then released into the middle of the field for a nice gain on a play the offense was pinned inside its own 5-yard line. Just another example of how this offense can beat a defense, even if everything is executed properly by the defense.
Kendrick Bourne's first touchdown as a professional came on a play in which he was wide open coming out of the backfield. This is obviously a blown assignment from the defense, but who messed up? The Lions look to be in a zone, the defender at the bottom of the screen seemss to be allowing his defender to get past him, so he is passing his man off of his zone into the safety’s zone. The linebacker at the top of the screen follows the route by the receiver at the top of the screen; the cornerback follows this route as well putting two players on one man, which leaves the receiver in the backfield wide open. If the receiver would have split out wide I would think the corner would have shifted that way. The cornerback should have carried the receiver out of the backfield and let the receiver run by him into the zone covered by the safety over the top of him. This play created confusion for the defense, which turned into six points for the 49ers.
Jimmy Garoppolo was very close to ruining Jimmy Garoppolo Bobblehead Day at Levi's Stadium. Late in the game, up by 3, he almost hands the game to the Lions. This is an out-breaking route from the running back, who is lined up as the slot receiver. The play looks really bad, so why did Garoppolo throw this ball? The receiver lined up at the very top of the screen runs a comeback route: he fakes the go and comes back. This can’t be the correct route; this should have been some kind of in-cutting route where he just crosses the running back, which would have held the defender covering the running back for a split second, letting this throw be completed. Jimmy Garoppolo has to recognize this and not throw this ball, or throw the ball high to avoid the pick. Luckily for the 49ers there was a holding call on the play nullifying the big play for the Lions.
This 49ers team feels different. Mediocrity is no longer tolerated. Excellence is not just sought out on a daily basis, it’s expected, not only with the coaching staff and the players, but with the fan base as well. This is the base on which dynasties are built. Good things are on the horizon for this 49ers team.
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