49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo deep throws can become more frequent

One of the biggest downsides to the 49ers attack with Jimmy Garoppolo under center is the lack of passing game on the field. If the quarterback gets his way, that will change in what could be his last assignment as the starting signal caller in San Francisco.

Garoppolo said Thursday at a press conference for reporters that he had more freedom when he went into his last five games of 2017, and he would like to see that back this time.
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“I love it,” Garoppolo said of pushing the ball into the court. “Yeah, there’s a lot of things that obviously go along with that, but yeah, I love doing those things. In ’17 there was freedom where I, receivers, tight ends, we had good chemistry. And when you get that with offensive skills and a quarterback It’s a tough attack.”

In those five extended games, Garoppolo completed 67.4 percent of his throws and averaged his career best 308.4 yards per game in his five starts. His highest average since then was 254 yards per game last season.

According to Pro Football Focus, 9.0 percent of Garoppolo’s attempts were deep throws (more than 20 yards outside the line of scrimmage). He was down 32 percent on medium-depth throws (10-19 yards behind the line of scrimmage).

In 2019, those numbers dropped to 6.6% for deep throws and 25.8% for medium throws. Last year, 7.6% of his throws were deep, while his medium depth throws fell to 24.3%.

While Garoppolo said he felt like he had more freedom in his relaxed appearance in Week 2, he stopped short of saying the offense would continue to function the way it did on Sunday. Although it looks like he was pushing for it.

“I don’t know, that’s a fair question,” Garoppolo said. “I think we’ll see as we go forward, but I don’t know, the more freedom you have as a midfielder, obviously the better you play, you’re more confident and good things will happen.”

On Sunday he threw a deep 9.5 percent of his attempts in a small sample size of 19 throws. He went to medium depth in 19 percent of his attempts.

So, what changed between 2017 and 2021?

“At 17 I was learning about abuse, so Kyle would call up some plays and I wouldn’t know exactly how to read it, but you will figure it out as you do,” Garoppolo said. “It’s only as I learn more and more in attack and gain knowledge of attacking that I begin to see what Kyle is thinking and vice versa, but there is clearly some back and forth between the player and quarterback.”

The 49ers might not be aiming to push the ball further down the field, but it’s interesting that Garoppolo credited his unfamiliarity with his most prolific appearance on the field in his short 2017 spell. He could get into this again, at least for the first part of his new job since he missed all the OTAs and boot camp while rehabilitating his surgically repaired shoulder.

He told reporters after Sunday’s game that there were two plays he was playing for the first time.

“Yeah, it was just different things, but I mean, I was a backup before, you didn’t get the delegates during the week,” Garoppolo told reporters after Sunday’s win. “You just have to get the mental reps and make the most of it.”

It would be great to see how Garoppolo develops over the last 15 games of the 2022 season. It would make sense as he adjusts that he goes back to some of the things that pushed him deeper in 2017 before bringing it back to his deep and mid-level success rates in 2019 and 2021.

It may be the duty of Team 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan to allow Garoppolo to shoot deeper more often. In his 47 games with San Francisco, he completed 38.5 percent of his deep throws with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was very effective on the medium and short throws, but the 49ers’ attack was missing that bottom element.

Of course, with no years left on his contract, Garoppolo may decide to tackle it more rather than try to stay within the offense. He obviously wants to, and if Shanahan takes a few chances, we can expect the veteran caller to take some shots we haven’t seen in five years. It may not be Significantly Different, but that might be enough to get the 49ers and Garoppolo over the hump.

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