We break down San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s aggressive pass to FB Kyle Juszczyk on a fullback wheel route against the Houston Texans.
When the San Francisco 49ers traded for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo earlier this season, many believed the Niners received a safe, game-manager-style quarterback in exchange for the teams’ 2018 second-round draft pick; Garoppolo had never thrown an interception at the NFL level, and was known for his quick release and accurate short passes during three years of backup service for the New England Patriots.
However, as Garoppolo has become more comfortable in the 49ers’ offense, he has become increasingly aggressive, and commonly throws contested passes to his receivers. Here, we’ll break down a pass by Garoppolo — contested by two Houston Texans defenders — thrown to his fullback, Kyle Juszczyk.
The 49ers have a 2nd-and-8 from their own 34-yard line. San Francisco is lined up with 21 personnel in a balanced I-Formation, with both receivers in “nasty” splits.
The Texans are in base personnel, with both corners playing off coverage. Houston is showing a single-high look, but could easily transition into two-safety coverage due to the depth of safety Andre Hal:
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan calls a play that works best against single-high coverages — particularly Cover-3. Shanahan hopes Garoppolo’s play-action fake will draw the linebackers toward the line of scrimmage, allowing Garoppolo to attack the vulnerable seams with his two wide receivers:
However, the Texans are actually playing Tampa-2, a Cover-2 variation with the middle linebacker dropping deeper into the secondary:
Garoppolo snaps the ball, and heads toward his running back Matt Breida, but Houston isn’t buying the fake. While the play-side linebacker fills the hole, the other two stacked linebackers drop back into coverage:
From the end-zone view, we can see that Breida is too far from Garoppolo to receive the handoff, and doesn’t do the best job of selling the run. Meanwhile, the 49ers leave Garrett Celek — Pro Football Focus‘ third worst pass-blocking tight end — alone against outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney — the Texans’ premier pass rusher. Instead of engaging, Clowney initially hesitates at the snap, which leaves Celek flat-footed:
Then, Clowney suddenly engages Celek, and gets his hands to the tight end’s chest. Clowney uses his strength to push Celek back and off of his feet, before the rusher uses his speed to get around the edge:
Garoppolo recognizes Houston is in Cover-2, as cornerback Kareem Jackson sits down in the zone, allowing wide receiver Marquise Goodwin to run by. However, middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney — not fooled by the play action — maintains coverage on Goodwin down the seam. Still, there is potential for the 49ers to attack the left side of the field, as Jackson is caught a bit off-balance in an attempt to cover Juszczyk, and Breida will soon be leaking out into the flat:
However, Celek’s failed block of Clowney forces Garoppolo into a quick decision. He won’t have time to let Breida’s pattern develop. Garoppolo will have to either throw the ball away, or attempt a pass to his fullback down the sideline:
With Clowney bearing down on him, Garoppolo chooses the latter. A perfect pass will still force Juszczyk to catch the ball over Jackson, and in front of free safety Marcus Gilchrist, who has keyed in on the pass attempt:
Garoppolo’s pass is placed perfectly over Jackson, who can’t make a play on the ball. Gilchrist goes for the interception, but Juszczyk outmuscles the safety on their way to the ground:
Juszczyk comes down with the ball, proving he can be an “offensive weapon” on the 29-yard completion:
We can file this passing play under “questionable decision, great execution, good outcome.” And for Garoppolo’s sake, next time, don’t leave Celek on an island against one of the NFL’s best pass rushers:
Jimmy Garoppolo’s aggressive decision-making hasn’t gotten him into trouble — yet. It will be interesting to see what an aggressive “Jimmy Franchise” can do after the San Francisco 49ers add more offensive playmakers next offseason.
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