Any Given Sunday: 49ers Over Jaguars

Any Given Sunday: 49ers Over Jaguars
Any Given Sunday: 49ers Over Jaguars
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

There's no use beating around the bush. Let's talk about how the 49ers offense has been improved by their usage of James Garoppolo. Thirty-four offensive points against the best defense in the league will narrow the focus pretty quickly.

Jimmy Garoppolo, acquired for a second-round pick at the trade deadline, sat and learned Kyle Shanahan's offense for about three weeks. He came in at the end of San Francisco's loss to Seattle and threw a touchdown. He has started every game since then, going 4-0, slapping around the AFC South and the Bears. Now normally, doing such things wouldn't be a big deal. But in the face of how the Jaguars have dramatically improved their defense this season, and given the lack of receivers Garoppolo has to work with, this was an impressive quarterbacking display.

Garoppolo's 49ers have been much improved on the offensive end, though they have struggled in the red zone to the tune of a 1.3% pass offense DVOA from Weeks 12 to 16. The overall pass offense numbers also show just how much of an outlier this performance was for the Jaguars on defense:

Jimmy Grapes Meets The Jaguars Defense

Season Weeks 12-16 Week 16
San Francisco Pass Offense DVOA 6.5% (17th) 36.9% (6th) 78.7% (1st)
Jacksonville Pass Defense DVOA -29.4% (1st) -6.5% (9th) 40.9% (30th)

While the Jacksonville defense has been extraordinarily good this season, they have sputtered a bit more than you might think of late. Their last truly dominant performance against a good offense came in Week 6 against the Rams. Since then, they have had just three double-digit negative DVOA performances (remember, negative DVOA means good defense), against the Colts, the Browns, and the T.J. Yates Texans. Russell Wilson was obviously going to get his, but to give up this many points against a team whose leading receiver was Kyle Juszczyk is a bit disconcerting.

The most important way to feature Garoppolo is to keep him clean. Even dating back to his days at Eastern Illinois, his biggest bugaboo was seizing up in the face of pressure. Against the Jaguars, owners of the fourth-highest pass-pressure rate in the league through Week 15, it was not crazy to wonder how much Garoppolo's warts would be on display. Instead, the Jaguars had just one sack and four quarterback hits on Garoppolo's 31 dropbacks. The 49ers offensive line has only a middle-of-the-pack pressure rate allowed, but Joe Staley has been in and out of the starting lineup -- and let's face it, Brian Hoyer's re-imagination of the concept of pressure is interesting in its own right.

It is also perhaps notable for future Jaguars opponents that San Francisco had this kind of success without targeting Jacksonville's great cornerbacks. Only two of the five players Garoppolo targeted more than three times were wide receivers, and they combined for just six catches on 10 targets. Even those looked more like easy offense than anything actually challenging for the receivers:

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San Francisco was just 1-of-4 targeting deep left and deep right passes. And that one completion came when they isolated Juszczyk on linebacker Paul Posluszny, who misread things a bit:

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The 49ers mainly made hay in this game over the short middle, where they had a 225.0% DVOA on nine attempts. The plurality of these targeted the Jacksonville safeties and Posluszny, or zones. It was a well-executed game plan of mostly quick-hitters here, trying to keep Garoppolo clean.


Where the Game Swung

This was a game of runs.

The game swung sharply when, on second-and-18 from the Jacksonville 44, Blake Bortles was pick-sixed by Dontae Johnson to put San Francisco up 16-0 early in the second quarter. Unsurprisingly, that was the largest swing in Edj Sports' Game Winning Chance metric, costing the Jaguars 21.2% GWC.

The Jaguars spent the better part of the next two quarters eating this lead up. The rare returned extra point gave them the oddball two points, and they took a 19-16 lead before Bortles was picked again at the Jacksonville 35, with a return from K'Waun Williams that set the 49ers up deep in Jaguars territory. This was the second-biggest GWC swing in the game, costing the Jaguars another 15.8%.

The 49ers answered with touchdowns on each of their next three possessions. Bortles' third interception set the 49ers up on the Jacksonville 18. That's three possessions, two of which started inside the Jacksonville 30, that boosted the lead to 37-19.

And then the Jaguars got the ball back with 6:23 left to play in the fourth quarter and immediately reeled off 20 straight plays, converting an onside kick, to pick up 14 points and make the score look respectable. A second onside kick went out of bounds, handing the ball to the 49ers in Jacksonville territory again. They sewed up the game with Matt Breida's 30-yard touchdown run on third-and-8 to make the final score 44-33.

By the DVOA

JAC -2.4% 24.2% -0.4% -27.0%
SF 33.9% 8.5% 5.4% 30.8%
JAC 14.1% 19.4% -0.4% -5.8%
SF 22.3% 17.0% 5.4% 10.7%

We are so deep in the season now that we can start to see these wild DVOA swings due to opponent adjustments, and you can see here how it turned a 15.0% VOA deficit into a 57.0% DVOA deficit. Yes, the Jacksonville defense is that well-regarded by our system.


A Note About Bortlesmania

I experience a lot of my general football gestalt through my Twitter feed these days. And while sometimes Twitter can be a smart place to think and learn about football, one thing that this last month has left us with is a lot of breathless proclamations about Blake Bortles.

"Highest-rated QB of the last month!" "The Jaguars will be forced to re-sign him!" "Look at all those touchdowns!" One of the weirdest things about Twitter is that it isn't about getting your message out so much as it is creating things that other people can react to strongly. And what can people react to more than sweeping proclamations about football stats?

The issue then is not about whether the stat happened, but about what that means going forward. I can tell you that Russell Wilson had never lost by more than seven points at home before last week -- does that tell us anything about Wilson going forward? I don't think so. I think it tells us that he's a good quarterback who played with one of the best defenses of all time for five seasons. To me, that falls under the idea of trivia and list-making. Ultimately it helps us place context around Wilson's win-loss record (if we need that), but it doesn't actually tell me much about how he's playing.

The Jaguars should be applauded for what they have been able to get out of Bortles statistically this year. This does not actually make Bortles an improved or good quarterback.

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Good quarterbacks would anticipate Keelan Cole breaking open here and get the ball out before he even made his cut. Look at how long Cole is waiting, and then look at how long it takes the ball to actually get there once Bortles throws it. This is the quarterback Jacksonville has.

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From Weeks 12 to 16, Blake Bortles' Jaguars have the third-highest pass offense DVOA in the NFL. Also, over that same time span, they have a -3.2% pass offense DVOA on third or fourth down. They have a -23.6% pass offense DVOA on third or fourth down when they need 7 or more yards for a conversion.

I understand what's happening here. It's fun and novel when the beaten rises to the top again. Short-term results like these help justify the Blaine Gabbert quarterback whisperer dreams, where a quarterback is bad but has tools, and clearly this coach is the one to reach him after all these years and teach him to throw deep balls.

Blake Bortles' statistics are a good story. He is still not a good quarterback.


4 comments, Last at 01 Jan 2018, 6:45am

1 Re: Any Given Sunday: 49ers Over Jaguars

The Jaguars really need to replace Bortles to have a shot at being an elite team. With their defense and their skill players, Bortles is really the last thing that will hold them back. And hold them back he will.
Will Jaguars management have the stones to jettison him now, with the Jaguars finally achieving respectability?

What Would Belichick Do?

3 Re: Any Given Sunday: 49ers Over Jaguars

One of the reasons 49ers had success was they kept running even though it was not very successful. And then they bootlegged a lot which they have not done with Jimmy Jesus (as he was called for the entire game by the gentlemen sitting behind me) until this game though they have done it with Hoyer early in the season. Bootlegs were quite successful against Jags. Getting 0-2 yards on first down is not great but JimmyG usually got something positive out of second downs and that kept things going.

He overthrew a TE that would have been 30 yards pass play and the interception (if he was not hit) was a pretty bad throw. And a few times he could have hit Goodwin for a better completion than what he got. Overall he played great though.

I also watched him against Titans and he had a perfect game against them. 49ers seem to have found their frenchise QB.

4 Re: Any Given Sunday: 49ers Over Jaguars

I was at the game and two things impressed me live - one was the play-calling and the other was the fullback/H-back usage in the passing game. The 49ers got a lot of mileage out of counter motion and half-rolls the other way (waggles, only not as pronounced), leaving the QB with 2-3 routes in levels concepts or a deep shot and drag route into the cleared area. They also singled up the fullback/H-back against LBs who couldn't cover him, leading to a number of easy catch-and-run plays.

Overall, it looked like the 49ers had the playoff record and the better QB and not the other way around.