Jimmy Garoppolo is consistent, and that’s good and bad for 49ers
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers almost have to view Jimmy Garoppolo as a constant, neither elevating his team’s play nor completely demolishing it, and that’s quite a conundrum.
The San Francisco 49ers can win games when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo simply manages it and doesn’t commit too many mistakes.
At the same time, though, they can also lose games in that fashion, especially if Jimmy G winds up being a little below the game-managing threshold expected for a middle-of-the-pack signal-caller.
The Niners’ recent four-game stretch reveals this, including three consecutive wins between Weeks 10 and 12 before suffering an ugly, mistake-riddled Week 13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Garoppolo wasn’t exactly good in that game, tossing two interceptions which turned into 10 Seattle points. But the stat geeks out there will note how he also threw two touchdowns and nearly passed for 300 yards, also completing two-thirds of his passes in the effort.
Not the best outing of his career, not the worst. Kind of in the middle, which suggests a provocative conclusion: Garoppolo is merely average, and that’s both good and bad for San Francisco.
Jimmy Garoppolo was slightly below average in 49ers loss to Seahawks
Granted, no quarterback is going to have a perfectly consistent game on a week-to-week basis. That’d be impossible. Quarterbacks tend to sway from their means each and every game, but the hope is an average quarterback sways into the positive more times than in the opposite direction.
In Week 13, Garoppolo swayed towards the negative trajectory, and the recent five weeks have shown a notable historical trend with his average games resulting in wins and his below-average games resulting in losses:
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
A few takeaways here.
Garoppolo’s Week 12 interception versus the Minnesota Vikings resulted in Minnesota scoring a first-quarter touchdown, and only the 49ers’ lapping efforts at the close of the second quarter and early in the third ensured a Niners victory.
Another interception in that game, and it’s likely a very different outcome.
But Garoppolo’s lone interception back in Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals came late in the game at a point when San Francisco had all but lost the contest anyway, which leads us to a further conclusion: Garoppolo doesn’t have what it takes to make up for his on-field mistakes, or those of his team, which is a clear-cut revelation that also occurred in Week 13, too.
Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t elevating his game when it needs to be elevated
Speaking of consistency, following his two-interception outing in Week 13, Garoppolo’s 2021 interception percentage is 2.6 percent with him now having tossed eight picks on 310 pass attempts.
Want to guess what Garoppolo’s career interception percentage is over his four-plus years with the 49ers?
If you guessed 2.6 percent, you’d be right. Consistency in a nutshell right there.
Garoppolo is going to turn the ball over at this rate, and at 30 years old now, it’s not likely to change anytime soon, if at all.
Even the nature of his interceptions has often remained the same, including this one straight into the arms of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner:
If you’ve seen Garoppolo picked off by a lurking linebacker between the numbers, raise your hand. We should be seeing all hands raised if you’ve watched at least a few of his starts over the years.
Yet Jimmy G’s mistakes in a game also highlight another issue regarding him merely being average.
When adverse plays like the above take place, it’s rare for Garoppolo to elevate his game above being the per-usual game-managing quarterback he’s been for years now. And unlike 2019, when Garoppolo was called upon to shoulder the offensive load (see the road games against the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints for examples), he hasn’t exactly showcased that kind of elevation activity this season.
That’s crucial when the Niners are struggling in other areas on offense, a full case study in Week 13 when they were without their top offensive weapon, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and were only able to average 2.8 yards per rush.
In a game like that, Garoppolo needed to offer up more, yet the Next Gen Stats chart from the loss to the Seahawks shows a very Garoppolo-like performance instead:
A full 19 of his 30 pass attempts no further than 10 yards downfield. If you were to go through Next Get Stats’ charts for Jimmy G this season and in years before, it would be hard to tell a massive difference from this particular game.
Why Jimmy Garoppolo being ‘average’ both helps and hurts 49ers
San Francisco can still win games with Garoppolo being average, provided the turnovers are limited. The recent five-game splits suggest this.
But it’s also contingent on the 49ers receiving notable contributions from elsewhere on the roster, such as the aforementioned Samuel being a true X-factor during their three-game win streak. Additionally, the Niners were dominant during that stretch by out-possessing their opponents by recording nearly 40 minutes’ possession time during those games, meaning a merely average Garoppolo was more than enough to get by, particularly when the run game was working.
Especially if San Francisco’s defense, too, was taking advantage of not having to be exposed on the field for too long in games.
Related Story: 3 reasons why 49ers show Jimmy Garoppolo the door in 2022
The problem, though, is the margin for error is exceptionally razor-thin for Garoppolo and the 49ers as a whole. It would be one thing if Garoppolo was prone to mistakes but could then answer with one or two of those “takeover” drives elite-level quarterbacks tend to showcase, such as the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson executing a perfect two-minute drill for a touchdown to close out the first half.
Garoppolo isn’t bad to the point where his on-field play is always going to be a massive liability for the Niners. But unlike Wilson at his peak, or any other top-level quarterback for that matter, Garoppolo isn’t going to elevate or improvise his play to compensate for the mistakes he or the rest of his team may make.
Wholly average. And San Francisco can’t expect anything more, which is an element stuck somewhere between good and bad.