Can new franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo solve the San Francisco 49ers’ third-down efficiency problems? In this segment, we break down how Garoppolo extends plays and keeps his eyes downfield.
This is the fourth installment in a series analyzing San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s success on third downs. You can check out the first three here:
The following play will test Garoppolo’s ability to extend a broken play, keep his eyes downfield, and then recognize and hit a receiver who eventually works his way open.
The Patriots have a third-and-16 from their own 19-yard line. New England is in 11 personnel, with Garoppolo in the shotgun. The Patriots are in an unbalanced formation, with three wide receivers and running back James White on the wide side of the field, and tight end Martellus Bennett on the line on the short side of the field.
The Arizona Cardinals are using dime personnel in a fairly balanced defensive formation, with two outside cornerbacks and three deep defenders. Linebacker Deone Bucannon — a converted college safety — is threatening a potential blitz across from Bennett, and safety Tyrann Mathieu — a converted college corner — is lined up across from the two New England receivers:
The Patriots are running a fake screen to outside receiver Julian Edelman, who will first motion toward the formation prior to the snap. New England hopes that both Mathieu and outside corner Patrick Peterson will bite on the screen, allowing wide receiver Chris Hogan to get behind them down the sideline. Inside receiver Danny Amendola’s main responsibility is to clear out the secondary, and draw any potential safety help away from Hogan:
The Cardinals do their best to disguise their coverage pre-snap, in an attempt to confuse the young quarterback. Arizona is playing a variation of Cover-3, with a linebacker, a cornerback and a strong safety responsible for the deep thirds. In another wrinkle — similar to one used far too often by 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh after it worked once earlier this season — interior lineman Rodney Gunter will drop back into short coverage behind fellow lineman Calais Campbell. The purpose of this is two-fold; first, the Cardinals hope Gunter will be in Garoppolo’s blind spot for a potential interception, and second, Gunter’s short coverage will allow Arizona’s middle hook defenders to drop deeper on the long third-down play:
Garoppolo takes the snap and quickly pump fakes toward Edelman. Mathieu — responsible for the flat — runs up to make a play on the receiver, but Peterson and safety D.J. Swearinger sit back and wait for the other receivers’ deeper routes:
After executing the fake, Garoppolo readies his body to throw the deep pass to Hogan, but holds onto the ball when he sees that Peterson has perfect position on the receiver. With his main target covered, Garoppolo steps up in the pocket toward his outlet receiver White, while keeping his eyes downfield:
Garoppolo sees Swearinger — who followed Amendola down the field — stop as the receiver crosses the middle of the field. Amendola heads for the open space behind Bucannon, who is responsible for the deep third, but is caught staring into the offensive backfield:
Garoppolo stops his momentum and quickly sets his feet for the deep pass attempt:
Thanks to his footwork and quick release, Garoppolo gets rid of the ball before getting hit from behind; the pass travels 35 yards before Amendola pulls it down between three Cardinals defenders:
Instead of throwing into coverage or dumping the ball off for a minimal gain, Garoppolo extended the play and kept his eyes downfield, allowing his receiver to find a hole in the defensive coverage. Garoppolo then used his sound mechanics — and deep-ball accuracy — to complete the pass and move the sticks:
In our next segment, we’ll take a look at how Garoppolo uses his athleticism to recover from mistakes.