Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Watching the San Francisco 49ers in their home opener Sunday, one thing was clear: something in the offense wasn’t clicking.
The offense that was seventh in efficiency in 2019 looked like they hadn’t missed a beat as the game started as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hit running back Raheem Mostert in the middle of the field early in the first quarter that Mostert took 76 yards for a quick touchdown. The crowd noise blaring from the loudspeakers in Levi’s Stadium felt less like a reminder of the pandemic wreaking havoc through the country and more like the echo of every fan’s excitement watching from home reaching the Stadium. The offense was firing on all cylinders.
Until the cylinders fell off.
“I think there's obviously good and bad from watching the film,” Garoppolo said in a press conference earlier this week. “but just being decisive, getting the ball out on time. I think those are two big things that will go a long way, but just like I said after the game, too, but just being more consistent as an offense. Each drive going out there and executing.”
Following the Mostert touchdown, the team appeared poised to steamroll the Arizona Cardinals. They appeared to have the same confidence that led them to upset the Seattle Seahawks in week 17 last season and clinch the NFC West division and a first round bye in the NFL playoffs. This year is different than last year, for a myriad of reasons, and before Sunday’s game, Jimmy mentioned that:
“Yeah, obviously there's a ton of differences this season and it's really up to everyone to just adjust to it as best you can on the fly. I think you can't put too much thought into it, but you have to realize that it is a different week. We had no preseason, so approach is a little different, but it's basically the same. Once we get to Week 1, it's all game prep and getting ready to roll now.”
Then the Arizona Cardinals were able to hold long snapper Kyle Nelson on a punt attempt which allowed linebacker Ezekiel Turner to double team cornerback Dontae Johnson and block a punch by Mitch Wishnowsky, which gave Arizona the ball in the red zone.
The confidence the 49ers showed was suddenly shattered, and the team found themselves alone in their own stadium without fans, having to rebuild momentum and regain their confidence and composure.
“When you get into those situations, obviously it was a little different today without the crowd, just that feel, that game day feel, it just wasn't there,” Garoppolo said after the game. “but it just comes down to execution, like I said, especially when it comes in the last couple of minutes like that. Every play is crucial, every yard's crucial and we didn't execute when we needed to.”
The Arizona Cardinals had a sound game plan entering Levi’s, and after that blocked punt, the 49ers were never able to regain the surge in momentum they had. Even the five-yard touchdown pass to running back Jerick McKinnon felt more like a lapse in Arizona’s defense than an accomplishment by the 49ers’ offense.
Looking back on Garoppolo’s comments, the areas where he felt he wasn’t on his game, decisiveness and accurate and timely throws were what helped him lead the team to a shootout victory against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints the season before. Garoppolo has been in these types of situations before. So what’s changed?
The Super Bowl happened.
Make no mistake, few of us will ever be able to understand the emotions that go through someone who competes for the Lombardi trophy, let alone what it can feel like to get so close to winning one and coming up short. Between that lose and the fear of reinjuring his repaired ACL, Jimmy lacked the confidence we’ve seen him display in tough situations. This lack of confidence is now being projected onto his receivers, with Jimmy out targeting receivers rehabbing from injury (Trent Taylor, Jordan Reed and McKinnon) 12-1 compared to a feisty former second round pick (Dante Pettis).
The above clip shows what Garoppolo and Pettis are capable of, and they will need to rekindle this chemistry with the injuries along the WR corps. This all likely stems from Shanahan’s disposition with Pettis; why would your starting quarterback have faith in a receiver that the head coach does not?
The 49ers can regain their confidence. These are not issues that will doom the season, and thankfully they have been diagnosed early enough in the season and heading into an easy stretch of games that this could be the pseudo preseason the offense needs.
There will come a time this season when Shanahan will need to have faith in his quarterback, and in order for that to happen his quarterback will need to find the faith in his wide receivers.
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