Of thirty-one Week One starting NFL quarterbacks on teams other than the 49ers, only one posted fewer yards per attempt than quarterback Blaine Gabbert: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum. Both quarterbacks attempted 35 passes during their Monday night opening matchup.
Gabbert averaged 4.86 yards per yards per attempt, while Keenum averaged a league-low 3.71 in Week one. No other quarterback in the league averaged less than 5 yards per attempt in week one. Keenum, for his part, was sacked twice, and pressured for most of the game by the 49ers' swarming defense. Gabbert, on the other hand, was seldom hurried and reaped the benefits of a strong effort from the Niners' offensive line.
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49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young was part of the Monday Night Football crew, and repeatedly spoke about Gabbert's tendency to hesitate when throwing the ball down the field. Young explained that while Gabbert's sees the field well, he is too often reluctant to make the throws that he sees.
On throws that he did attempt, Gabbert was often inaccurate. On the opening drive, he threw a screen pass into the dirt while targeting wide receiver Torrey Smith. On the next drive, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley broke wide open in the Rams secondary for what would have been an easy touchdown if Gabbert could have thrown an accurate pass, but instead the ball sailed way over his head with no chance of Kerley making the reception.
On the very next possession, with the 49ers in Rams territory at the 34-yard line, facing 4th and 1, head coach Chip Kelly decided to go for it. Hurrying to the line, Gabbert attempted another screen pass to Torrey Smith, but threw it at Smith's feet, causing him to drop to his knees to catch it, where he was immediately touched down by Rams safety T.J. McDonald, turning the ball over on downs.
There has been much made about Gabbert's exemplary study habits and rapport with his teammates. However, for someone who's taken the bulk of the first team snaps since mini-camp began in April, it's not an encouraging sign to see passes still being thrown off target, and to see him struggle with an unwillingness, or either inability, to consistently make throws down the field.
To have these miscues occur, yet still win the game 28-0, speaks volumes about Chip Kelly and his coaching staff. Say what you want about the Rams offense, but their defense was ranked #13 in the NFL last year, and has been projected to be formidable this year. Kelly's gameplan, the play of the offensive line, and the performance of running backs Carlos Hyde and Shaun Draughn, made it look easy against the Rams and their vaunted front seven.
Gabbert, to his credit, moved the ball early by using his feet when the opportunity presented itself. He finished with 43 yards rushing on nine carries. He made a very nice throw on an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vance McDonald in the third quarter. He also didn't turn the ball over, although Rams defenders had potential interceptions in their hands on at least two separate occasions, and were unable to haul them in.
Against better teams, failure to capitalize on great defensive play, an effective running game, and good field position can be a recipe for disaster. Despite the fact that they dominated the line of scrimmage for the entire game, the 49ers went up 14-0 with 8:21 left in the second quarter, but did not score again until 12:12 of the fourth quarter. Against teams with more explosive offenses, beginning next week in Carolina, Gabbert will need to make the most of his scoring opportunities in order for the team to have a chance at sustained success.