Why Jimmy Garoppolo goes off when SF 49ers host Cardinals

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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The SF 49ers host the visiting Cardinals in Week 1, and Jimmy Garoppolo should start off the year with a strong effort against his NFC West foe.

The SF 49ers‘ situation at wide receiver is still very much up in the air in advance of the team’s regular-season opener against the visiting Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Sept. 13.

But that’s no reason to assume quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will have anything less than a great effort against the Niners’ NFC West division rivals.

No, this isn’t just a baseless promotion of Jimmy G in the hopes he can shed a seemingly endless offseason of criticism and questioning after his fourth-quarter meltdown in Super Bowl LIV last February. Hype posts are great, yes. But there are actual reasons why Garoppolo winds up putting up some solid numbers against an upstart Cardinals squad in Week 1.

For starters, he might have to. Arizona could give San Francisco’s defense some fits, namely with quarterback Kyler Murray looking to target three-time first-team All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins with regularity over the course of the game. And the SF 49ers had issues with mobile quarterbacks last year, and that doesn’t figure to go away this season either.

So, what you might end up seeing is something of another shootout, not unlike the two games versus the Cardinals last year in which Garoppolo essentially had to carry the team.

As far as those stat lines went:

  • Week 9: 28-of-37 for 317 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, 136.9 passer rating
  • Week 11: 34-of-45 for 424 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, 115.4 passer rating

Granted, Garoppolo’s leading receivers in those games were wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel, respectively. Samuel is still nursing his way back from an offseason foot injury, and Sanders is now with the New Orleans Saints.

Yet there are additional reasons why Jimmy G might still go off despite having a less-than-proven wide receiver corps at his disposal.

Jimmy Garoppolo, SF 49ers can take advantage of Cardinals’ suspect passing defense

Week 1 could be another back-and-forth contest in which Jimmy Garoppolo is called upon to use all of his passing abilities throughout the game.

Yet Arizona didn’t go 5-10-1 last season because of its lack of offense. While being a middle-of-the-pack bunch, the Cardinals still managed the league’s 16th best scoring offense in 2019. It was the defense, ranked dead worst in total yards allowed (6,432) that should give Garoppolo plenty of reasons for excitement.

If the Cardinals are smart, they’ll look to shut down San Francisco’s run game early and often by stuffing the box and trying to expose a questionable offensive line. That’ll play in line with what many teams probably try doing early, knowing head coach Kyle Shanahan’s tendencies and the evidence from what happened late in the Super Bowl.

Fine.

Arizona allowed an average of 7.0 yards per pass play last season, 27th best in the league, and its 4,510 total yards given up through the air was second highest only to the Detroit Lions. Not even the prolific pass-rushing efforts from EDGE Chandler Jones, who recorded 19 sacks last season, were enough to buck that stat trend.

So it makes sense the Cardinals stockpiled on defense during the 2020 NFL Draft, using five of their seven picks on defenders and kicking off their class with top prospect, Clemson linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons.

Simmons’ chief role on Sunday will be covering All-Pro tight end George Kittle. And while that yearly bout will be one to watch in coming years, the early advantage is easily in Kittle’s favor.

Cardinals fans can thank a pandemic-shortened offseason with no rookie minicamps, no OTAs and an altered training camp for hindering Simmons’ early development and acclimation to the NFL ranks. He’ll likely be a fine player, but his development could come along slowly.

Kittle will get his share of targets. But if there’s one area to watch in Garoppolo’s favor, it’s on third downs.

Last year, Jimmy G completed 50 percent of his third-down targets for a first down (65-of-130), best in the league among qualifiers.

Simultaneously, the Cardinals surrendered third-down conversions for a first down 46.7 percent of the time, third worst in the league. And with Garoppolo getting slot receiver Trent Taylor back from a foot injury — Taylor’s 19 third-down receptions for a first down back in 2017 was tied for best among rookie pass-catchers that year — one can see how the Jimmy G connection with Taylor should be an element to watch in Sunday’s bout, too.

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The 49ers and Cardinals square off on Sept. 13 at 4:25 p.m. ET from Levi’s Stadium.