This is part 5 in a 5-part series examining quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's 5 game stretch in 2017 that will examine some troubling trends in the quarterback's performance. Parts 1-4 are linked at the bottom of the article.

In the first four articles of this series, we spent a great deal of time examining all the things Jimmy Garoppolo does well. His accuracy, decision making, third down efficiency, and poise under pressure and against the blitz are borderline elite for a quarterback who's started just seven games in four years. However, no examination of a quarterback would be complete without highlighting the areas he needs to improve. There are not many but they are enough to cause some concern going into the 2018 season.

Quarterback evaluations are multi-level analyses with each evaluator at different websites prioritizing and contextualizing certain scenarios and traits over others. In deep passing in 2018, an area in which Garoppolo really has struggled since before being traded to the 49ers, Pro Football Focus graded him as tied for 31st in accuracy, sharing that honor with Tom Savage (31.3%). Pre-Snap Reads' Cian Fahey, in his 2018 Quarterback Catalog, graded Garoppolo also as tied for 31st in deep passing accuracy (21+ air yards or further) with Deshaun Watson (27.3%). Jonathan Kinsley, who runs the Deep Ball Project, graded Garoppolo as the 8th best in downfield accuracy at 57.1% but counts any passes from the 16-20 yard range in there, which significantly boosted the quarterback's accuracy due to the slightly shorter yardage throws.

While that's a big discrepancy in how he was graded by various evaluators, one thing is certain: he does struggle throwing the ball deep. According to Fahey's analysis, he threw 10 interceptable passes in 5 games as a starter, with 5 coming against Houston (a number which I have disputed in the past). Nonetheless, it was a game in which he made a number of errant and risky throws. An interceptable pass is defined as a pass that is thrown and gives a defender an opportunity to catch the ball. For example, Brian Hoyer threw 30+ interceptable passes in 2014, passes that defenders actually got their hands on cleanly but dropped (they're not receivers after all).

Think if just five more of those interceptable passes that Garoppolo threw were interceptions (or even three more): he'd have been a seven touchdown, 10 interception quarterback in five games and we'd be likely be doubting if he's really worth the contract he was given. (For what it's worth, I charted only two interceptions of the five as quarterback responsibility). If at this point you're thinking "so what this is just stats," congratulations, you now understand my pain when explaining that film also matters, not just stats. It is highly volatile relying solely on stats as a way to evaluate a quarterback so it will be necessary to go to the film to see how and why he struggles.

INTERCEPTABLE PASSES


This metric is useful insofar as you're able to watch every throw over and over again to see where a quarterback is throwing the ball and how accurate he is. The average NFL fan doesn't have that kind of time and it's not a knock on anyone. The stat is entirely subjective because we can't truly know why a quarterback threw a pass to a defender (maybe the receiver ran the wrong route and he was expecting his receiver to be in a different spot) but it really gives us a good picture of how well a quarterback is or isn't seeing a defense and gives a more accurate picture of the decision making process. As Cian Fahey notes:

Using interceptions to measure how good a quarterback is at taking care of the ball is too volatile. It relies on too many factors that the quarterback doesn't control. Instead looking at the opportunities the quarterback gives to defenders is a much more telling, more reliable and more consistent prism to view ball security through.

While I don't fully agree with Fahey's numbers of interceptable passes for Garoppolo, I do agree that he threw the ball a fair number times with reckless abandon and gave defenders plenty of opportunity to make interceptions.

So let's look at some of the interceptable passes and head scratching decisions.

Against the Texans, Garoppolo threw a fair amount of reckless passes that the defense just didn't capitalize on. However, the Texans defense baited him into an errant throw early in the first quarter.



Texans linebacker Brian Cushing lines up in the box and appears to be coming on a blitz, cluing Garoppolo in on a potential throw to receiver Trent Taylor on a short curl route to beat the blitz. However, Cushing drops into a hook zone underneath Taylor's route while defensive end Jadeveon Clowney beats right tackle Zane Beadles around the edge, forcing Garoppolo into a rushed throw and interception. Had he seen Cushing drop, he immediately could've come back across the field to tight end Garrett Celek (though Celek did slip but the quarterback could not have known that would happen).

Early in the second quarter on 1st and 10 also against the Texans at the 49ers 37 yard line, the 49ers lined up in Shanahan's favorite personnel grouping, 21 personnel, with two backs, one tight end, and two receivers.



Garoppolo makes another head-scratching throw over the head of Celek and the only reason the defender doesn't intercept it is because he fell. On the play, Beadles gets beat around the edge and instead of stepping up into the pocket, Garoppolo shifts to his left into the rush of defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, just as receiver Marquise Goodwin comes open on a comeback route. If he had had shifted up into the pocket, he likely could have hit Goodwin for a nice gain. Given his poise to stand in the pocket and deliver passes as he's hit, something he was very good at, it's puzzling why he wouldn't try to shift up here.

Lastly, on a 1st and 18 with 4:47 left in the game against the Titans, Garoppolo threw what eventually could've been a game-sealing interception for the Titans. Fortunately the pass fell incomplete thanks to the instincts of Goodwin to break up the pass. In 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers), Garoppolo motions running back Carlos Hyde out to the left as the outermost receiver, creating an empty five-wide look and confirming man-to-man coverage.

The 49ers run the smash concept to the right side with Trent Taylor as the outermost wide receiver and Goodwin from the slot.



From a clean pocket, Garoppolo then throws a deep pass out to Goodwin who is covered by defensive back Adoree Jackson.



Garoppolo has room to put the pass out in front of Goodwin and certainly has the arm strength to do it but instead of stepping into the throw, he plants toward the sideline, getting no hip rotations, and shifting the weight off his plant foot as he throws and the pass floats on him and Jackson is able to get up and high point the ball as it's behind Goodwin.



Goodwin makes a smart play to break up the would-be interception and the pass falls incomplete.

IT'S IN THE FEET


So what was the problem on these passes, and largely all the wild and errant passes Garoppolo threw? It all starts with the feet.

First, it's not all doom and gloom with this particular skill set of Garoppolo's. He's shown more than once that he can remain inside the pocket in the face of pressure and deliver accurate pass after accurate pass to move his team down the field, as I have shown in this series' previous articles.



He doesn't have perfect mechanics on some of these throws and on others he prioritizes mechanics over the physical abuse he takes from pass rushing defenders, but evaluating quarterbacks solely on their mechanics when other traits are enough to overcome flaws here and there can cause an evaluator to miss the special traits that make a quarterback great. His quick release, mental processing speed, and short-to-intermediate range accuracy, especially under pressure, are among some of the best in the league.

But on several occasions, Garoppolo has had to overcome bad mechanics with those other skills to keep drives alive and the team in scoring position. Early on in his starts for the 49ers it was apparent that he lacked the ability to throw deep passes with any consistency because his footwork prevented him from delivering passes with enough control and velocity. And in several situations, like the example a few paragraphs above in the underthrown pass to Marquise Goodwin, and others, any consequent interceptions likely would've thrown his future with the 49ers in doubt heading into the offseason.



Let's look at a play from the above montage of less than stellar throws. One play in particular highlights the fundamental flaw that he'll need to address this offseason, one that the truly elite quarterbacks spend their entire careers perfecting, and that is his delivery platform/footwork.



The glaring issue with his footwork is that he has a tendency to not open up his front foot (plant foot) to the target. When a quarterback doesn't open his front foot the target, it screws up his weight transfer on the rest of the throw. The back foot lags behind, the hips don't rotate and generate torque, and the throwing power is generated in the elbow and shoulder, causing control issues.

A quarterback's throwing power, like most athletes, is generated in the hips. Try and throw a football with just your arm and then try and throw it while rotating your hips. The ball travels much farther and with greater control. Even baseball players, try swinging a bat with just your arms and then try swinging while rotating your hips. You generate much more power.



On this throw, if Garoppolo had pivoted on his front foot and shifted his weight forward, his hips would rotate, and he would've tossed a much more accurate and controlled pass to Bourne, that would've likely went for a touchdown. Instead, no pivot and no weight transfer puts all the stress on his elbow and shoulder to generate the power to control the velocity of the pass.

For the most part though, he gets away with it on shorter range throws because the pass doesn't have to travel as far and with less velocity. He's still pretty accurate. On deeper throws however, it is the sole reason why he did not connect on so many deep passes that were wide open.

Let's go through some.

Garoppolo struggled with the deep ball while he was in New England and not much of that changed with the 49ers. In his first start with the 49ers against the Bears in Week 13, the shaky footwork stood out immediately.



On a deep corner route to Celek, Garoppolo drops back and plants his front foot downfield away from the corner route. The movement causes him to torque his upper body and arm enough to get throw off because he could not bring his hips and back leg through, and the pass sails over Celek's head and out of bounds.



If we dissect the throw at this frame, we can see why the pass is off target. The front foot needs to be open to the target, which will naturally place the trajectory of the pass inside that lane. When the trajectory is outside the direction of the plant foot, it's considered closed off to the target and the pass is much harder to control.



Same issues on this throw: the plant foot is pointed downfield and Garoppolo subsequently loses velocity on a deep route to Louis Murphy. When the plant foot is pointed at the target, the pass is much easier to complete, is accurate, and is on target.



Let's look at this example from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.



This play from Aaron Rodgers demonstrates what it's supposed to look like when the arm follows the hips and the hips follow the feet. Rodgers' front foot plants and pivots open to the target. As he rotates his hips, his arm naturally follows through to the target and finds Jordy Nelson in the end zone for a touchdown.

In 2011 Rodgers told ESPN the Magazine that the key to his improved accuracy was perfecting his footwork:

Even in my seventh year, I'm still trying to break old habits I learned as a kid. You're taught to get back as deep as you can as quick as you can, but you can never throw the ball out on time when you do that. Learning to time up my drop with each route has been a big thing for me. It allows me to throw the ball in rhythm and hit the same release point with every throw, meaning that no matter what else is happening, the ball comes out on a similar plane. That's when accuracy comes.

Those nuances have allowed him to master every conceivable route concept and the timing required to throw on time and in rhythm, something that he works on year after year. For Garoppolo to take the next step, it something he must dedicate his craft to.

One last flaw that jumps out on Garoppolo's deep passes is that when he does point his plant foot towards his deep target, he sort of hops on the front foot, causing an unbalanced weight distribution, culminating in the series of effects I described earlier about it leading to lack of hip rotation and torque, which leads to a reliance on generating power in the elbow and shoulder.



On this throw, after Garoppolo drops back, instead of pivoting and opening up his hips and rotating into the throw, he sort of hops on the front foot as he throws, causing him to shift his weight away from the throw and putting all the strain on his elbow and shoulder. Kendrick Bourne was wide open too. He had time to settle his feet and deliver an accurate strike downfield, and instead he frantically hopped about and sailed the pass over Bourne's head and out of bounds.

I have no doubt the 49ers offense will be even more efficient next season in a full 16 game slate, and Garoppolo might even be a top five quarterback in major statistical categories. But he also might be top five in total interceptions. For Garoppolo to truly elevate his game, he will need to constantly and consistently show improved footwork. If he can make even simple adjustments this offseason, the deep passing game will be an added element that teams will have a hard time defending with the speed at the receiver position. Garoppolo has more than a strong enough arm to hit those passes. If he can marry up the feet to match the velocity and control needed to hit these passes, then he will more than elevate the offense next season and they could make a significant push toward a division title and a playoff berth.

Garoppolo article series

1. Jimmy Garoppolo Season Review Part 1: Accuracy

2. Jimmy Garoppolo Season Review Part 2: Under Pressure

3. Jimmy Garoppolo Season Review Part 3: Against the Blitz

4. Jimmy Garoppolo Season Review Part 4: 3rd Down Passing

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise stated.

All gifs and images courtesy of the NFL.