49ers film room: Jimmy Garoppolo must improve vision to break out in 2020

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo must improve his vision to break out in 2020.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had a remarkable first full season, as a starter. Jimmy threw for almost 4,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 69.1. On the surface, this looks to have been a great first full season, one almost every quarterback would love to have, numbers-wise.

However, there is one area that Jimmy G must improve upon: his vision.

Garoppolo often stares down receivers. This has led to many passes that were either intercepted or passes that should have been intercepted. Defensive backs are just wide receivers who can’t catch after all, right?

Not only does Garoppolo tend to stare down receivers, he sometimes just doesn’t see defenders or recognize the coverage.

Vision isn’t just about staring down receivers and not seeing underneath defenders, it is also about seeing the field and being able to spot broken coverages and take advantage of those situations.

Garoppolo does play in a scheme that is extremely complicated but also rewarding for quarterbacks. Head coach and offensive play-caller, Kyle Shanahan, loves to pair his inside and outside zone-run plays with play action.

Using play action meant Garoppolo didn’t need to drop back as much as other quarterbacks. This is important because the 49ers offensive line was a merely average pass-blocking unit last season, ranked 15th in this category, according to Football Outsiders. Play action meant Garoppolo and the pocket were both on the move, so the opponent’s pass rush couldn’t tee off on the quarterback as easily.

The threat of the run game meant 49ers opponents had to put more players in the box. The 49ers threw the ball the second-most times when their opponents had eight or more players in the box, creating wide-open passing lanes for Jimmy G as indicated in the Pro Football Focus graphic below:

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the play-action passing game is it gives the quarterback an easy read. Shanahan normally has a route in the flat, intermediate and deep sections on one side of the field.

The progression on play action is a flat route first, intermediate route second and finally the deep route is third. Most of the time the ball is thrown to the flat route, which makes the quarterback’s job easier and allows the receiver to gain yards after the catch.

Through the use of the play-action and run-pass option (RPO), this meant Garoppolo threw his first read 80.9 percent of the time. This ranked seventh in the NFL.

However, when Garoppolo was forced beyond his first read his PFF grade increased. Jimmy G ranked fifth in non-first-read throws. Out of the top 10, Garoppolo ranked first in yards per attempt with 8.11, first in completion percentage at 67.0 and was second in pass rating with 102.1.

According to this, Jimmy G gets better when forced beyond his first read.

The use of the RPO game was a new addition Shanahan used frequently throughout the season. Garoppolo had to read one defender and would then have the choice to hand the ball off to the running back or throw it to a receiver, running either a bubble screen or a slant behind the opponent’s linebacker.

The 49ers ran play action 133 times last season for 1,438 yards, whilst Garoppolo threw for 349 yards on just 23 attempts from the RPO game.

Garoppolo’s ugliest throws and decision-making occurred in drop-back passing situations, where his vision was sorely lacking.

Studying Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers film

Take this throw in Week 1, the ball was placed on the right hash and running back Tevin Coleman motioned out of the backfield to outside the numbers on the left side of the field. The cornerback was 6 yards off the line of scrimmage, and Coleman ran a 5-yard hitch route. Garoppolo stared down Coleman all the way, allowing the cornerback to break down hard on the throw, intercept it and return it for pick-six:

Week 11 brought about another peculiar throw from Garoppolo late in the third quarter. The 49ers were leading 17-16 and were in the red zone on the opponent’s 12.5-yard line. Jimmy G stares down wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and throws it to him, but the ball didn’t end up with Sanders.

“Why?” do you ask? It had been intercepted by a linebacker sitting directly between Garoppolo and Sanders. You could draw a straight line from Jimmy G to Sanders and the linebacker was right in the middle of that line.

Sanders was running an out-breaking route, with the option to sit down in zone coverage, which he did. However, Jimmy didn’t see the linebacker in the underneath zone and threw it straight to him:

In the divisional round, Garoppolo threw one of his three interceptions in the postseason straight to another opponent’s linebacker, but it was intercepted as a result of him staring down another receiver. This time, the receiver was Deebo Samuel.

Samuel was running a slant from the right side of the field, with Garoppolo under center. Garoppolo had a seven-step drop and threw the ball to Samuel.

Well, Garoppolo tried to.

The problem with staring down receivers is that any linebacker worth his salt, in zone coverage, will read the quarterback’s eyes and go to where the quarterback is looking.

All Jimmy G needed to do was to look at the left side of the field for a split second, which is easier said than done, to move the linebacker and give himself a bigger window to throw to Samuel. Instead, Garoppolo stared Samuel down, and the linebacker, Eric Kendricks who happens to be one of the best in the NFL, closed that window and intercepted that pass:

During the Super Bowl, Garoppolo missed out on some throws that would have moved the chains or resulted in touchdowns.

The first play was 3rd-and-5 from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 26.5-yard line. The 49ers motioned Coleman out wide, with Samuel split out to the left and tight end George Kittle in the slot on the right. Initially, Garoppolo stared at Kittle, but for some reason, he went off Kittle and stared at Coleman.

Coleman had a defender all over him, legally, and Garoppolo still threw the ball to Coleman.

Ironically, Garoppolo should have kept on staring at Kittle, as Kittle was wide open between zones in the middle of the defense. Had Garoppolo thrown to Kittle, it would have been a first down and potentially many more yards.

Whilst that was happening, Samuel beat his man off the line of scrimmage and was running free downfield. If Garoppolo threw it to Samuel, it’s an easy touchdown, as Samuel had beat his man deep and was running a corner route away from the safety:

The second play was a 2nd-and-8 on the Chiefs’ 37-yard line (at the 1:08:36 point of the above video). Garoppolo was in the gun with running back Raheem Mostert on his right, Samuel and Sanders split out to the left, Kittle next to tackle Justin Skule and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne split out to the right.

Samuel went in motion across the formation on a jet sweep, Garoppolo faked it to Mostert. Sanders was running a deep post with Bourne running a go route. Kittle ran a crossing route behind the linebackers and in front of the safety, no defender in sight. Garoppolo looked at Kittle running to the right and threw the ball to Sanders, incomplete.

Isn’t that fitting?

Kittle was so wide open. The perfect play design, called at the perfect time, almost executed to perfection.

I’m sure every 49ers fan would love for Garoppolo to improve his vision and “break out,” but do the 49ers need Jimmy G to break out? Why can’t the 49ers ride the run game to another deep playoff run? The 49ers were second with 66 runs of 10 or more yards, after all, per PFF:

It has worked once, why can’t it work again?

3 burning questions for 49ers quarterbacks in 2020. dark. Next

Would any 49ers fan complain should Jimmy G throw for less than 4,000 yards, 30 touchdowns and be one throw away from winning a sixth Super Bowl?