49ers film room, Week 15: Jimmy Garoppolo’s third-down success

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 17: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Tennessee Titans during their NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on December 17, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 17: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Tennessee Titans during their NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on December 17, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

This week’s installment of 49ers film room looks at quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s third-down success versus the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 and how Kyle Shanahan helped engineer that success.

The San Francisco 49ers ripped off their third win in a row last Sunday over the Tennessee Titans, led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who posted 381 passing yards and one touchdown.

A big part of the reason the 49ers won was because of his success on third down.

Through three starts, Garoppolo is 21-of-33 for 63.6-percent completions, 283 yards, one touchdown and one sack on third downs, converting 16 of those attempts for first downs, all at a higher rate than the Niners’ previous QB starters, Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard.

49ers 2017 QB Offense Table
C.J. Beathard335856.9418119-657.22478.1
Brian Hoyer356058.3283217-534.71974.5
Jimmy Garoppolo213363.6283112-218.61688.3

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2017.

On Sunday against the Titans, Garoppolo was 8-of-11 for 72.7-percent completions, one touchdown and one sack on third down, converting seven for first downs.

In addition to this performance, it is quite clear head coach Kyle Shanahan is giving Garoppolo play designs he’s comfortable with, and through the last several weeks, Patriots passing game concepts have shown up on film (behind paywall).

At least two Patriots passing game plays showed up on key scoring drives for the 49ers, including the final drive of the game.

Garoppolo was also able to convert these plays, due in large part, to his ability to navigate muddy pockets, his quick release and his pinpoint accuracy.

Let’s take a look at some of the plays that illustrate both the playbook implementation and the traits that Garoppolo displayed that gave his team a chance to win.

Garoppolo displays a keen ability to navigate muddy pockets and work outside the structure of the play when forced to.

On this play, the 49ers line up in 20 personnel (two running backs, no tight ends, three receivers) running a slant/flat combo to the left and a curl/flat combo to the right on 3rd-and-4 in the first quarter.

The Titans used a variety of zone blitzes to try and throw the timing of the passing game off, but it didn’t work too well. The rest of the Titans defense that doesn’t blitz is either locked man to man with the receivers or dropping into hook/seam or curl/flat zones underneath.

At the snap, the Garoppolo notices the Titans took away his first read to wide receiver Trent Taylor. Garoppolo resets and moves to his right, but there is no one coming open before he feels the pass rush, and he moves back to his left to escape the pocket.

Taylor sees the scramble and bails toward the sideline as Garoppolo escapes the rush. As soon as the rushers appear in his face, Garoppolo tosses a nice throw to Taylor on the sideline.

Displaying nice arm strength as he’s falling away from the pass, Garoppolo is able to pick up a 12-yard gain on third down.

In the second quarter on 3rd-and-6 on the Titans 14-yard line, the 49ers again show 20 personnel.

The 49ers are running the “mesh concept”. The mesh concept usually involves two receivers crossing underneath at a “mesh point” over the middle. The offense can add additional elements to further laterally or vertically stretch a defense.

Just before the snap, the Titans defense shifts eight defenders down into the box, tipping their hand that they will be blitzing on an obvious 3rd-and-6 situation. At the snap, the Titans send seven rushers against six blockers.

Garoppolo starts out looking at the mesh receivers running across the middle. Running back Carlos Hyde misreads the blitz and lets a free rusher through the B-gap, forcing Garoppolo to throw a quick pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk running a wheel route out of the backfield.

Thanks to his quick release and arm strength, Garoppolo gets the pass off and completes it in just enough time before the defender arrives to hit him.

He doesn’t take a hit but he also is not able to step into the throw due to the timing of Juszczyk coming open and the free blitzer getting into the backfield.

A few plays later, on the same drive on 3rd-and-5, the 49ers have dialed up just one of many plays that Garoppolo is familiar with, the Patriots double-slant concept, commonly known as the “pick play.”

On this play, the 49ers line up in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers).

The double slants incorporates a flat route to pull the defenders into each other and free at least one receiver open. The backside of the formation is running a curl/flat combo.

This is a common play featured by the Patriots on anywhere from 3rd-and-2 to 3rd-and-6, though it’s usually run out of an empty set.

At the snap, Garoppolo looks for that inside slant by Taylor, but it’s immediately taken away by the outside linebacker dropping into the middle-hook zone. Tight end Celek is wide open at this point, but Garoppolo comes back to the curl/flat combo for a brief moment.

When he notices the curl/flat isn’t open, he looks to extend the play by escaping the pocket to his right. He finds Celek all alone on the side of the end zone and drills a pass into his chest for a touchdown.

This final play came in the fourth quarter, 1st-and-10 from the Titans 44, on the final drive of the game and is another Patriots passing game staple, the “D-slant” or “diagonal slant.”

The double-slant play is a Patriots passing game staple dating all the way to offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss:

The play is also designed to take advantage of the natural pick element by throwing the route that comes open first. However, that is purely a decision the QB makes on the fly, and where he goes with the pass is dictated by the coverage.

The 49ers are in 11 personnel again, and the Titans are playing a two-high shell with press coverage. The right side of the formation is running the “D-slant,” with Hyde running the diagonal to the flat. The left side is running the double slant.

Cornerback Adoree Jackson, covering wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, bails at the snap and turns his hips downfield in anticipation of a deep route.

But Goodwin angles in on the slant just as Garoppolo delivers a pinpoint accurate pass and hits Goodwin in stride. The play went for 14 yards and set the 49ers up inside field-goal territory for kicker Robbie Gould to hit the game winner as time expired.

Next: Predicting Jimmy Garoppolo's Future Contract with the 49ers

The incorporation of these plays and the skillset and efficiency of Jimmy Garoppolo is something that should makes very excited for the future.