Set and Reset: Analyzing Garoppolo's Mistakes and How He Overcame Them
Image Credit: 49ers
The 2021 NFL season for the San Francisco 49ers was filled with plots and subplots, but none more than who should start at quarterback.
There was a clear divide as to who should start for the 49ers when the season started; Camp Jimmy and Camp Trey became more entrenched and dipped in vitriol as the seasons turned from fall to winter.
Flash forward to week 17, when rookie quarterback Trey Lance led the 49ers to a needed victory while veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo nursed a sprained thumb.
There was no more fantastic storyline, nor mightier battle, than who head coach Kyle Shanahan should start to close the season against the Los Angeles Rams.
The reasons were clear why head coach Kyle Shanahan went with Garoppolo – the 49ers were on the cusp of a playoff berth, Garoppolo is a known commodity in the offense, and Shanahan knows what he can get out of his veteran.
Despite an atrocious first half of football, Garoppolo dug incredibly deep to grind out an overtime win against the Los Angeles Rams to help the 49ers punch a ticket to the postseason.
The first half of the contest was a gloomy, wretched mass of offense from Garoppolo. It was, in fact, a typical 49er football game.
The 49ers' second possession must have had millions of Faithful fans wondering if the afternoon did not favor the men in scarlet.
Garoppolo fumbled the first play on the drive, took a sack on the second play, and the team lost yardage on a draw run on third-and-27. Whatever talisman the 49ers had over the Rams was being dragged out towards the sea.
2nd Quarter: 1st & 10 at the 50 (3:53)
Things did not look better for Garoppolo on the next possession. The 49ers had four positive plays, but Garoppolo threw a costly interception that was 11 yards past wide receiver Jauan Jennings and eight yards short of Travis Benjamin.
Garoppolo threw a terrible pass, but he didn't get much help from left tackle Colton McKivitz. Rams defensive end A'Shawn Robinson had McKivitz moving laterally at the snap and then was able to push upfield. McKivitz never had a good position on Robinson.
Garoppolo did not have much time to set his feet, but it was still a deplorable decision in that instance.
2nd Quarter: 1st & 10 at the 50 (0:20)
Garoppolo's interception certainly felt like the low point in the contest, and I understand why Camp Trey rounded the weaponry and took their grievances to Twitter.
But Garoppolo started to battle back. In the first half, he marched the team down to get a field goal with little time left.
He had a great throw to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk with 20 seconds left in the half that gained 26 yards.
The three-man route combination has whisps of "stormy," but altered slightly. Aiyuk ran a dig route, with wide receiver Deebo Samuel looking like he ran a "jerk-off" route. Running back JaMycal Hasty's route appeared to be a "C.O. China," where he got to the edge of the numbers, then cut back inside.
The Rams were in man coverage, with cornerback Jalen Ramsey covering Samuel. When Samuel turned upfield, he ran into strong safety Jordan Fuller. The collision looked unintentional as it looked like Fuller was dropping into a "robber" position and didn't have his eyes on Samuel.
No matter. Garoppolo had a clear lane to hit Aiyuk for a significant gain.
4th Quarter: 2nd & 5 at the SF 38 (0:54)
The 49ers were down by a score when they got the ball back for their 10th possession. Garoppolo had thrown another interception on the eighth possession, and the Rams would convert the turnover into seven points.
All of the poor reads, interceptions, and the early fumble were gone from Garoppolo's mind. He commanded this drive and capitalized on a costly coverage mistake from the Rams.
After a short five-yard gain to Jennings on a "shadow-hash" concept, Garoppolo hurried the offense to the line. He made a juggling motion to signal the play, set the offense, and took the snap.
The two receivers on the left of the formation ran leveled out-routes. George Kittle ran a quick out on the right, tight end, and Samuel ran a "go."
Roughly 10 yards into Samuel's "go" route, Fuller stopped his backpedal and broke down, possibly to jump an out route or because he thought he had help behind him.
Samuel kept going, looking back over his right shoulder to signal Garoppolo. However, Garoppolo already saw the coverage breakdown and sent the ball downfield to Samuel, who ran to the Rams 19-yard line.
The 49ers would score to tie the game, ultimately winning in overtime to secure a playoff berth.
Quarterback play is not always graceful nor error-proof. Often, it is an ugly improvisational dance that can balance equal parts luck and skill.
Garoppolo's performance was not perfect, but it was exactly what was necessary for the 49ers to close the season.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
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