Zwiller: The case for Jimmy G
Thomas Zwiller | Wednesday, October 7, 2020
When Jimmy Garoppolo was injured in week two of the NFL season, I instantly became worried about the 49ers’ hopes moving forward. They had gone from being the NFC West favorite at best, and a wildcard team at worst, to missing the playoffs. While, yes, it was a high ankle sprain and not a season-ending injury, I looked at Russell Wilson in Seattle chasing down the MVP, a solid Rams team looking to make a resurgence and even the Cardinals looking like they could be competitive (They had won week one against the 49ers by four).
With the NFC West being so competitive, Jimmy G being out of commission for even a few games could put the 49ers behind and miss the playoffs. But backup QB Nick Mullens came onto the field, played mediocrely, didn’t blow it and the 49ers won. In week three I didn’t expect the 49ers to lose to the Giants, but I figured with a lot of key injuries, the game might be closer than it otherwise would have. The 49ers won 36-9.
Mullens played pretty well in that game, putting up 343 yards, one TD and zero INTs. This made me think I had been wrong about the 49ers and that they might just be okay. Then, in week four, they played the Eagles and San Francisco lost 20-25. Mullens threw for 200 yards on 18-26 passing, one TD and two INTs, one of them being a pick-6. This led him to be benched for C.J. Beathard, who threw for just under 140 yards.
This was the result I was originally expecting when Jimmy G went out: an offense that could score some points but couldn’t play all that well. The good 49ers results came when they played the Jets and the Giants, who are currently a combined 0-8 in what can only be described as “Tank for Trevor” seasons. This all made me think back to a question that came up before and even more so after the 31-20 Super Bowl LIV loss: Is Jimmy G simply a game manager?
But, in light of current events, I’m here to say Jimmy G is one of the most underrated Quarterbacks in the NFL. No, underrated is the wrong word for it — I think he’s the most underappreciated QB in the NFL. Allow me to explain why.
Game Managers are typically defined as the following: A QB who makes very few costly mistakes and turnovers, has mediocre or below-average statistics and is typically buoyed by a strong defense and rushing game to win. That’s a pretty big mouthful, so I’m going to break it down into a few chunks:
At a first glance, Jimmy G seems to fit that definition. The 49ers defense was easily one of the best in the league last season, ranking top-10 in most metrics. They were No. 2 in yards allowed, No. 6 in turnovers and No. 3 in percent of possessions allowing a score. They allowed only 310 points throughout the 2019 campaign, which was No. 8 in the league.
That being said, there were some games that Jimmy G needed to come up big in. I would like to highlight the game against the New Orleans Saints, on the road, at the Super Dome, the toughest home venue bar none. It was a game that quite literally decided the fate of the playoffs; it enabled the 49ers to get a first-round bye and gain home-field advantage for the rest of the postseason. It was a game that was a barnburner, a shootout, and it was all Jimmy G.
He posted 349 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a QBR of 132. Compare that to Drew Brees, considered to be one of the all-time great QBs in NFL history, who had 349 yards and five touchdowns, giving the latter a rating of 138. The key difference that makes me give this matchup to Jimmy G? He had fewer attempts than Brees (35 to 40) but threw more accurately (75% to 72%). Not a big difference, but had Jimmy G thrown as much as Brees, he would have had a better stat line. Jimmy G can put a team on his back when it matters.
A strong rushing game
The 49ers rushing game ranked No. 2 in yardage (2,305) and No. 1 in TDs (23) on the ground in 2019. This compared to a passing game that ranked No. 13 in yardage (3,792) and No. 11 in TDs (28). However, the 49ers attempted just the 29th-most total passes (473) while recording the second most rushing attempts (498). In my mind, the sheer volume of rushing is almost inflating the yardage numbers. Had the 49ers passed more, they could have racked up a lot more yards through the air.
But beyond that, I’d like to go past the stats and look more so at the strategy employed by head coach Kyle Shanahan. Traditionally, a good running game forces defenses to change their strategy to stop the run, allowing for a good passing game to emerge. With the 49ers, though, the opposite is true. The 49ers have Jimmy G, who is a great passer and could have better stats if given the opportunity. Defenses know this and move to neutralize him, or at least limit him, which opens up the opportunity for a high volume run game.
The 49ers have a great run game, in part thanks to Jimmy G. This great run game also contributes to the defense because it allows the defense to rest while the offense to record a good time of possession. San Francisco burned 31 minutes and 25 seconds of clock on average last year, helping to control the game. Not only does Jimmy G help to support the run game, but he also supports the defense.
A good case of average statistics in a QB is former NFL quarterback Jake Delhomme. In 2003 when the Panthers made the Superbowl, Delhomme went 10-5 as a starter and recorded 3,219 passing yards, 19 TDs and 16 INTs. That is a game managing QB. He put up mediocre stats, and his team made it to the Super Bowl more in spite of him than because of him.
Jimmy G, on the other hand, went 13-3, was just shy of 4,000 yards, 27 TDs and 13 INTs. Delhomme had an 80.6 quarterback rating; Jimmy G was at 102. Over Delhomme’s 11-year career he had a win-loss record of 56-40, threw for 20,975 yards, 126 TDs and 101 INTs with an 81.3 rating. In Garoppolo’s five years of starting, he has already won 22 games, only lost six, has thrown for 7,336 yards, has 48 TDs and only 21 INTs with a rating of 101.
How about that for a Game Manager.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.