Welcome to the Warp Zone: How Garoppolo Can Level Up This Fall
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Professional football is a cold, brutal game. If a 10-year career does not leave a man with lifelong battle scars, then the constant gnashing of the fan base’s teeth will certainly crunch bones.
The NFL quarterback, the bane of a fickle fan’s heart, is the human example of a small boat out at sea in the middle of a Class 5 hurricane. Play a few great games in a row, and he’s crowned the second coming of a legend. Make a few mistakes, and the player might as well be fed to the wolves.
San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a good quarterback. While he might be lighting the world on fire with his piercing eyes and Bruce Wayne-esq jawline, he’s not in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks.
Garoppolo can clean up the flaws in his game and be considered as a top-five player.
First, the Good News
Garoppolo has shown that he can put the team on his back and win football games. Notably, he was responsible for wins against Arizona in Week 9 and New Orleans in Week 14.
Despite the 49ers’ finishing the 2019 season with a heavy run game, head coach Kyle Shanahan knew he could call upon Garoppolo to win a football game. The Week 14 shoot-out in New Orleans will stand out to me as Garoppolo’s best as a 49er.
The 49ers’ defense struggled to halt the Saints’ offense, so Shanahan leaned on the pass and let Garoppolo destroy the Saints’ defense through the air.
Further, the win over the Saints was a pinnacle moment when Shanahan got to flex and use his explosive plays to fight for points and valuable in-game momentum. The strategy allowed Garoppolo to keep throwing punches and maintain drives.
Week 14: 2nd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (14:57)
When Garoppolo is on, there isn’t a soul within the 28 known galaxies that can extinguish the fire. Shanahan must have known it was going to be Garoppolo’s afternoon because he opened the second quarter with a play-action score.
Additionally, the corner-post route exposed the kryptonite littered throughout the Saints’ secondary – a weakness the 49ers’ exploited throughout the afternoon.
Garoppolo feeds off high-octane plays that get him out of the pocket and provide a clear view of the gridiron.
It’s moments like this that give me the vibrations that Garoppolo can continue to grow and improve in Shanahan’s system.
For those keeping notes at home, the wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ corner-post route was the same route tight end George Kittle ran for a long score in the Week-12 blowout against Green Bay.
But the Sources of Frustration
I want to make something clear for all those armchair quarterbacks who don’t know the difference between Cover 3 and coveralls.
Professional football quarterbacks do know how to read defenses and coverages. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be on an NFL roster. They are, after all, human beings who make errors from time to time.
And those errors result from a defensive secondary whose sole purpose in life is to keep the quarterback’s brain cells from recognizing a particular coverage. Now and then, the secondary wins that chess match.
Week 2: 2nd Quarter – 2nd and 20 at the SF 15 (14:15)
The play above has two misfortunes. First, I mislabeled it. It’s not “F Burner,” so please ignore the terminology.
Second, it was Garoppolo’s only error during the blowout Week 2 win over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals.
From the Bengals’ positioning just before the snap, it looked like their secondary was going to drop three into coverage. Wide receiver Richie James might have added an extra touchdown to the scoreboard if that had happened.
Indeed, all quarterbacks have favorite plays and might try to force a football to a receiver that has been open on a route during practice. It would be insulting to assume Garoppolo had James in mind as his only read on the play, but the tape shows Garoppolo focused only on James’ hi-cross and not reading his other receivers.
The Bengals dropped six men into the secondary to cover two intermediate routes and the hi-cross. When six defenders cover three receivers, that usually means the defense is going to win the battle.
Garoppolo’s want for the big play or forcing a pass through a defense continues to be the weight on Garoppolo’s rise to the top third of NFL quarterbacks.
At times, he can rely on sheer ability to thread the needle and fit the ball into a small bedroom window.
The play above encapsulates two of Garoppolo’s flaws: his read of the secondary once he hit his back foot was wildly wrong, and his struggles throwing intermediate and deep passes to the left side of the field.
Last season, Garoppolo was 13-of-31 for 296 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions, and an 84.05 quarterback rating when throwing over ten yards to the left.
It’s going to take more than Garoppolo improving his throws to the left to be a top-five NFL quarterback. The hot and tepid play needs to become much more consistent if the 49ers want another NFC West title and trip to the playoffs.
Consistency can come with greater command and knowledge of Shanahan’s offense. Garoppolo needs to know where his outlets are, rather than hope for the best 20 yards downfield.
I’d rather he make a safe throw, like a short toss to running back Raheem Mostert on a swing route, than throw a deep ball into dime coverage. We can argue over who was open or the first read in the player later, but I will defend a quarterback for taking the short, uncovered route nearly every time.
Fans fall in love with a team’s quarterback not with their hearts, but with their eyes. Garoppolo’s statistics from last season -- 13 wins, 27 touchdowns a shade under 4,000-yards passing, and a Super Bowl berth -- are enough to thaw blood stored at absolute zero.
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