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49ers: Can Jimmy Garoppolo Continue His Success Against Arizona?

Sep 10, 2020 at 8:00 AM0


In 2019, the San Francisco 49ers beat their divisional rival, the Arizona Cardinals, twice during the regular season by a combined 13 points, as both games went down to the wire. The Cardinals offense was able to move the ball against the 49ers top ranked defensive unit. The Cardinals averaged 311.5 total yards of offense, and 133 rushing yards per game, both well above what the 49ers defense allowed on average. Defensively, the Cardinals shut down the 49ers rushing attack, allowing only 135 total rushing yards in the two match ups.

It was evident that the Cardinals' game plan was to take away the 49ers' strengths, and force them to throw the ball. Their strategy was effective, but the 49ers were up to the task, as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led his team to two crucial victories, throwing for 718 total yards, 8 touchdowns, and an average quarterback rating of 126.15.

Comp/Att Yards Touchdowns Ints Rating
Week 9 28/37 317 4* 0 136.9
Week 11 34*/45 424* 4* 2 115.4
* denotes season highs

During the final moments of both games, Garoppolo had the ball in his hands and was able to make the crucial plays needed to win, including a game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Wilson, in the final seconds of the teams' Week 11 matchup.


As we look to start a brand new NFL season, the 49ers will battle the Cardinals in Week 1. How well will Jimmy Garoppolo be able to repeat his success against the Cardinals defense?

Exploit their weakness in coverage


The Arizona Cardinals' overall weakness is pass coverage; in 2019, they allowed a passer rating of 109.9 for the season. All-Pro Cornerback Patrick Peterson had a down season, as he posted his worse coverage grade in five years with a 64.3 per Pro Football Focus (PFF). Peterson was beat by 49ers receivers for seven receptions, and 125 yards in 2019, with two of those receptions and 30 yards from Deebo Samuel. Newly acquired corner Dre Kirkpatrick should start opposite of Peterson and be primarily responsible for covering Samuel, which is a positive matchup the 49ers should take advantage of. Kirkpatrick is solid against the run, but struggles in coverage.

The Cardinals were notably bad against slot receivers. Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy will likely be defending the slot, and should be a target for Jimmy Garoppolo to attack. Murphy had a rough rookie season, as he finished with a 49.1 coverage grade, and allowed a 110.3 passer rating and nine touchdowns (PFF). Kendrick Bourne will be operating out of the slot and should see a healthy share of targets, assuming Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are healthy. Trent Taylor should also get oppurtunities from the slot.

Attack the seams and middle of the field


George Kittle played in the Week 9 matchup vs Arizona and had six receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. Expect Kittle to work the middle of the field and down the seams to expose the weaker part of the Cardinals' coverage, as he projects to have one of the top matchup advantages in Week 1 for tight ends. The Cardinals had the third-worst linebacker coverage grades in 2019, with a 32.0. The Cardinals did attempt to fix this issue, by drafting linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who has the potential to become a dangerous weapon for Arizona. However, heading into Week 1 without any preseason games, Kittle and the 49ers receivers should be able to exploit this area of the field.


Contain Chandler Jones


Ultimately, Jimmy Garoppolo's success will depend on how much time he has in the pocket to progress through his reads. The 49ers offensive line looks to have an advantage in pass protection against the Cardinals. Chandler Jones will be the biggest pass-rushing threat, as 49ers left tackle Trent Williams will have a big test in his first game, but he should be able to hold his own against Chandler.

The rest of the Cardinals line is solid against the run, but has provided a mediocre pass rush. The Cardinals signed Jordan Phillips in free agency, who is coming off a 10-sack season, but his 19 total pressures on 362 rushes indicate regression is likely. The Cardinals also picked up Devon Kennard to play opposite Chandler, who has yet to post a pass-rush grade over 60.0 in his career, according to PFF. The Cardinals will be a difficult team to run against, but they should be able to give Garoppolo enough time to get the ball to his weapons.

So, by taking advantage of the Cardinals' coverage weaknesses, attacking the seams and middle of the field, and providing protection for Garoppolo, the 49ers passing offense should be able to repeat its 2019 success. The Cardinals will look to force the 49ers into being a more one-dimensional team than they like, and the 49ers will need the passing offense to put up big numbers if they want to start the 2020 season with a win.

The status of Samuel and Aiyuk will play a big factor in how the 49ers deploy personnel, and the overall effectiveness of the offense. Neither player has been ruled out for Week 1, but they were absent from practice on Wednesday.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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