The 49ers continue to let Jimmy Garoppolo throw short passes without testing the deeper parts of the field, and this might all be part of the plan anyway.
They sometimes look nice. But in a context without covering defensive backs and minus a pass rush, it’s hard to read into those practice sessions and see anything more than what they simply are: practices.
A year ago, during Garoppolo’s seven games played, a sizable chunk of his forward-passing efforts were 1-yard shovel passes that sometimes could pick up 10 yards at a time. They might go down as 10-yard passes, yes. But the intended air yards were awfully short.
Two weeks into the 2021 season, the Niners are 2-0, and there’s little reason to complain about anything. Yet Garoppolo still isn’t pushing the ball down the field much, and those intended air yards are still awfully low.
According to Next Gen Stats, Garoppolo’s intended air yards this season are at 5.1, which is third lowest among all qualifiers and only above the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan (4.9) and the Chicago Bears’ Andy Dalton (4.2).
Garoppolo’s Week 2 passing chart against the Philadelphia Eagles also highlights Jimmy G’s unwillingness or inability to toss passes beyond 20 yards:
Just one pass attempt, an incompletion, beyond 20 yards out. And 11 of his 30 passes thrown in Week 2 were actually behind the line of scrimmage.
Perhaps that was the game plan. Or, maybe, Garoppolo simply doesn’t have the arm strength to adequately test defenses deep. Only rarely has head coach Kyle Shanahan asked Garoppolo to engineer such throws.
And even when they connect, they don’t always hit a receiver in stride. Just check out how wide receiver Deebo Samuel had to adjust on Garoppolo’s 79-yard touchdown pass in Week 1:
If Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah turns around, it’s likely an interception on the underthrown pass that forced Samuel to break stride and come back for the ball.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. And the pass helped inflate Garoppolo’s average yards per attempt, which are currently at 9.1, even though the intended air yards are much, much lower.
49ers game plan doesn’t call for Jimmy Garoppolo to throw deep
None of this is new. And some could make the argument Shanahan lost faith in Garoppolo trying to connect on deep passes all the way back on that now-infamous Super Bowl LIV fourth-quarter overthrow of former wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Maybe earlier than that.
It’s also possible, and perhaps even likely, Garoppolo’s weakish arm prompted San Francisco to aggressively trade up for rookie quarterback Trey Lance, who despite being a raw prospect with only one full year as a collegiate starter under his belt, unquestionably has much better arm strength.
For now, Garoppolo is still the starter until Shanahan feels Lance is ready. And as any good head coach will do, Shanahan has tailored the 49ers offense around Garoppolo’s strengths.
Garoppolo can be good enough at short passes, and that’s effectively Shanahan’s game plan for him.
This is something former Niners left tackle Joe Staley pointed out to KNBR 680’s Papa & Lund Show this week, saying Garoppolo’s seemingly always-absent deep-ball attack has never been part of the Niners’ plan on offense:
"He didn’t have the huge plays down the field, and that’s what I think everybody that loves fantasy football and the stats and all these stat patterns and stuff want to be like “well he’s not throwing the ball 40 yards downfield.”Well, that’s not what he’s asked to do in this offense. It never has been. If you look at Kyle Shanahan’s offense it’s never really been that. It’s been about controlling the clock, moving the ball down the field, and doing what it takes to win."
At least according to Staley, Garoppolo’s short passing has been the strategy all along. And while a quarterback-driven league has long championed the highlight-reel bombs from other strong-armed quarterbacks, there have been plenty of others who have proverbially “dinked and dunked” their way down the field.
It looks like that’s the plan for Garoppolo for the time being. And judging by what his passing efforts have looked like these first two weeks, that strategy isn’t going to change anytime soon.
If at all.