Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Without question there was going to be a game (or perhaps games) that the 49ers would need to win thanks to Jimmy Garoppolo’s right arm; whether Garoppolo could be relied upon to win such games has been a hotly debated topic this season. Those that believe he can will point to 2017, when Garoppolo was parachuted into a 1-10 situation, and led them to a 5-0 finish once he took over as starter; those on the other side of the argument will say the 2017 run doesn’t count because nothing was on the line for the 49ers and that 2018 did not provide much of a sample due to Garoppolo’s injury, so 2019 would be the first true test.
The 49ers literally rushed out to a 7-0 record this season, averaging just over 181 yards per game on the ground in the process. With such a dominant running game, the 49ers have been able to take the pressure off of the passing game. However, the Niners have averaged just 74 yards per game on the ground over their last three games; much of the running game’s slump is due to an all-out commitment by the opponents to stop the run and force Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball.
In the first seven games this season, the 49ers averaged 27 pass attempts per game, but that number has ballooned to an average of 42.6 pass attempts in the last three games, including a season-high 46 attempts against Seattle, in overtime, followed by 45 attempts against Arizona, a game that featured a season-low 19 rushing attempts.
Following Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Kyle Shanahan explained the decision to turn away from the run and what a lack of balance does to the quarterback, “I consciously got away from (the run) in the second half, just because it didn’t look like it was going well … We weren’t creating a ton of lanes, so we had to make that decision and when you do that you put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
The game scripts in the last three games have put a lot of pressure on Garoppolo. The 49ers averaged just 25.6 rushing attempts and 74 yards per game the last three games; the Niners averaged 38.85 rushing attempts and 181.14 yards per game over the first seven games.
The last three games have yielded mixed results on the field and in the won-loss column.
In the two games against Arizona, Garoppolo has put up excellent numbers, the most important being 2 wins. He threw for 317 yards, a career high 4 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the first game. In the second game, Garoppolo matched his career best 4 touchdown passes and added a career-high 424 yards passing and was intercepted twice. In the Seattle game, the numbers were much more pedestrian (24 of 46, 248 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception), but despite some critical drops by his receivers, Garoppolo had the 49ers a missed overtime field goal away from victory.
The 49ers are about to enter a three-game stretch beginning with Green Bay coming to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, followed by trips to Baltimore and New Orleans, that will be their most pivotal of the season; a stretch of games that is historic in nature: each team is currently 8-2 on the season. According to Nick Wagoner of ESPN, “No team has played three straight games against teams with an .800 or better winning percentage this late in the season in the Super Bowl era.”
Is Jimmy Garoppolo rounding into form at the right time? On the plus side, Garoppolo’s two best statistical performances have come in two of the last three weeks; on the downside, both have come against the worst-ranked pass defense in the NFL. If Garoppolo is rounding into form, the next three games will tell the tale and it will most certainly be the right time, as the 49ers look to earn the top playoff spot in the NFC and make a deep playoff run.
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