Barber: Can Jimmy Garoppolo take 49ers to the Super Bowl?
Before the Seahawks game, the giddy question bouncing around the halls of 49ers fandom was: Is this team good enough to go to the Super Bowl?
One night, one game, was enough to shift the focus. The question this week has been: Is Jimmy Garoppolo good enough to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl?
That’s what happens when an offense that has been humming along, exceeding expectations all season, suddenly hits a brick wall painted in wolf gray. The 49ers’ offensive performance against Seattle was so offensive that everyone seemed intent on apportioning blame afterward. As in … Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling 13%, the blocking of tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey 12%, dropped passes by the wide receivers 25%, George Kittle’s knee 5%, George Kittle’s ankle 4%, etc.
The 49ers’ 27-24 loss on Monday night made it exceptionally hard to evaluate the quarterback, because so much was going wrong around him. How can a passer excel when his No. 1 target misses the game, his No. 2 target (Emmanuel Sanders) soon leaves with a rib injury, his receivers have pumpkins for hands and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is attached to him at the hip?
Certainly, Garoppolo was dragged down by all of that. He threw some nice passes, some important passes, that guys like Kendrick Bourne turned into incompletions or interceptions. And Garoppolo frequently had to get rid of the ball before he wanted to.
But we have videotape of that game, and it implicates Garoppolo as well.
In judging Garoppolo, I can’t help but compare him to the man who plays 30 minutes from him (or three days with traffic), the Raiders’ Derek Carr. Like Garoppolo, Carr has fervent admirers and harsh critics. At this moment in time, though, Carr is clearly the superior quarterback.
The numbers all say so. That includes conventional statistics like passer rating (Carr 104.4, Garoppolo 94.8) and yards per game (Carr 244.7, Garoppolo 228.2). And it extends to a higher level of analytics.
The website Football Outsiders, for example, uses DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) to measure a quarterback’s value per play. Carr ranks third in the NFL in DVOA at 28.6%, trailing only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Dallas’ Dak Prescott. ESPN Sports & Information has its own metric, QBR, which incorporates things like dropped passes, poor pass protection and high-leverage downs. Carr ranks eighth on that one, Garoppolo 12th. And the NFL’s Next Gen Stats calculates a quarterback’s expected completion percentage and compares it to his actual percentage. Carr’s rate is 2.4 percentage points higher than it should be. Garoppolo’s is 0.1 point better; he has gotten what he deserved.
Of course, if you’ve been watching their games recently, you didn’t need statistics. Carr has been on fire in Jon Gruden’s offense. This is the best he has played since his peak in 2016. Garoppolo had been pretty good, too, before the Seahawks game. But he hasn’t been as consistent or as dynamic.
The tricky part is figuring out how much of that is on the quarterback, and how much is defined by all the things around him — his running game, his coach’s play-calling, his receiving corps, his offensive line, his health, whether he is playing with a lead or trying to erase a deficit.