• Bret Rumbeck

What Aspects of the 49ers Offense Will a Top Rookie Quarterback Improve?

There should be no new news that no position in sports divides a fanbase up into war belligerents than an NFL quarterback. Everyone has a guy, their guy, who will lead the good guys to victory.

Facts and film don’t matter. The fact that most everyone couldn’t throw a football more than 15yards doesn’t matter. What matters is My Guy is behind center for our team this fall.

San Francisco 49er fans have been after one another since last fall over quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But slowly, that ship repositioned, and it’s now become a street fight among various rookie quarterback camps.

In full disclosure, I’m in favor of the 49ers drafting the Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with their third overall pick this Thursday. If Fields isn’t your guy, or my style isn’t your brand of bourbon, then feel free to exit now.

Fields is the new era of professional quarterback and brings skills that the 49ers’ quarterback room has lacked under the tenure of head coach Kyle Shanahan: mobility, a big arm, and the ability to improvise.

Now and then, I receive a text or a message from a friend that asks why the 49ers are cutting out on Garoppolo after one bad luck season.

“He took them to a Super Bowl and nearly won it. I don’t know why the Niners are ready to cut ties with a Super Bowl quarterback.”

The answer, Gentle Reader, is simple: Garoppolo is not the quarterback for this era of football.

He’s a one-read player who is too stiff in the pocket and can’t feel when to move or leave it. Add to that Garoppolo’s inability to stretch the field in the air and his inconsistency throwing the ball over the middle, and you have your reasons why general manager John Lynch and Shanahan are looking in greener pastures.

Here’s some proof.

Week 1 - 1st Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (6:55)

On the 49ers’ fourth possession of the game, Shanahan called a version of “choice-stucko.” Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne ran a short “basic” route, with two clearing routes on each sideline.

Arizona’s secondary was in a Cover-1 Plug, and its defensive line was aligned in a 42 King front. Each defensive back and linebacker were in man coverage, except middle linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, responsible for the short middle of the field, and safety Chris Banjo covering the deep middle.

At the snap, Garoppolo put his eyes on running back Raheem Mostert’s “choice” route, which I assume was the play’s primary read. Bourne’s route would clear the short defender, while the “go” route would remove the defensive back. In theory, that combination would have opened up running room for Mostert after the catch.

I’m old enough to remember when 49er fans insisted Colin Kaepernick was a one-read quarterback. He wasn’t any more than another, but that seems to have gone out the window for Garoppolo. Instead of working through the progressions, Garoppolo stood firm in the Tifway II Bermuda grass, and eyes frozen on Mostert with the hope he’d break open.

The television broadcaster noted that Arizona covered all Garoppolo’s options, leading to a “coverage sack.” That statement was incorrect. The secondary did have the other options covered, but it left a soft spot in the middle of the field for Bourne.

Campbell tracked Garoppolo’s eyes and began to move his right, opening up the field’s short middle. Garoppolo should have bounced to that location and dumped it off to a wide-open target. He had the time and a clean pocket to move.

Week 5 - 1st Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 39 (2:16)

Play-action plays should be easy reads and big gains for the 49ers. Unfortunately, the play below is a prime example of why a mobile quarterback would vastly improve the 49ers’ offense.

When Garoppolo had the team set at the line, he faced a “57 Navajo” front and a secondary aligned in a Cover-1B. A Navajo front is when both guards and the center are covered, with a stretch over the top of the tight end.

After executing the fake, Garoppolo had two options: fullback Kyle Juszczyk running what looked like a drive or shallow cross, or a deep route that would need a pinpoint throw.

Juszczyk was the clear option despite having a linebacker draped on him like a winter chill and because deep, accurate throws were Garoppolo’s kryptonite.

Left guard Laken Tomlinson had a poor play, but his error shows why the 49ers need a quarterback to move and with pocket presence.

Yet despite pressure coming from up the middle, Garoppolo stood his ground. He made no effort to throw Juszczyk open, nor did he run left to at least get out of the pocket and throw the ball in the dirt.

Fields has no fear to move, leave the pocket and find something out of a broken play. His play sums up where the NFL is going; Garoppolo shows where it has been. Short of Tom Brady and Kirk Cousins, successful quarterbacks need to move. They need that sixth sense to feel every ripple of air in the pocket, know when to leave, and know when to summon Houdini from the beyond to make magic happen with a football.

Garoppolo does not have these traits, and it has dragged the 49ers’ offense down to a snail’s pace.

The time is now for Shanahan to bring in the new generation of quarterback to run his offense and take the 49ers to the next level.


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