It’s a fallacy that you need one of the best quarterbacks in football to win a Super Bowl.
We’ll either assign quarterbacks elite status after they’ve won a Super Bowl (Eli Manning, Joe Flacco) or forget that the body of work in a Super Bowl season didn’t match the name (2015 Peyton Manning). The last time a player won regular-season MVP and a Super Bowl in the same season was Kurt Warner in 1999.
Yet, we all know how much quarterback play matters in the NFL, especially in the playoffs. The curious thing about the San Francisco 49ers’ impressive 7-0 start is that their $137.5 million quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been average, at best. The 49ers try to go 8-0 on Thursday night at the Arizona Cardinals, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
Perhaps the 2019 49ers are one of those teams that wins a championship by playing incredibly well around a quarterback who is good but not great. More than likely, for the 49ers to reach their ceiling they’ll need more out of Garoppolo and the passing game.
49ers winning without Jimmy Garoppolo having to do much
Garoppolo is a great example of why quarterback wins is a flawed stat.
Garoppolo has not been bad, but assigning him individual credit for the 49ers being 7-0 would be wrong. He hasn’t been a liability or an asset. He is averaging 212.7 yards per game, with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 93.6 passer rating is 17th among quarterbacks with 180 attempts, behind guys like Case Keenum and Gardner Minshew. The 49ers are 24th in the NFL in passing yards and 22nd in passing touchdowns. In four of seven games, Garoppolo hasn’t eclipsed 181 passing yards.
It’s not like Garoppolo has been incredibly efficient but just lacks volume. Among the 28 quarterbacks with 200 dropbacks this season, Garoppolo’s grade from Pro Football Focus ranks him 17th. In Football Outsiders’ DVOA per-play metric, the 49ers’ passing offense ranks 16th. Garoppolo has been perfectly average.
And that’s fine. The 49ers haven’t needed any more. They’re dominant running the ball, and their defense is one of the two best in the NFL along with the New England Patriots. There’s no reason for the 49ers to play differently if their formula so far this season is working.
Yet, in a tough NFC with quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, it’s likely there will come a time in which the 49ers need Garoppolo to have a big game. That’s why they’re paying him that enormous salary.
NFC playoff field will be tough
There are reasons Garoppolo hasn’t put up big numbers. The 49ers have been playing without both of their starting tackles. Their group of receivers lacks a player who can take over a game, which is a reason they traded for Emmanuel Sanders. Garoppolo is also coming back from a torn ACL, and that can take a while.
And Garoppolo hasn’t needed to do much. The 49ers have played in only one one-score game, which speaks to their dominance. In that 24-20 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Garoppolo threw two interceptions but also threw a game-winning 5-yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis in the final two minutes.
At some point in Thursday’s broadcast, someone will point out that Garoppolo has a 15-2 record as a starter. It will ignore that football is a team sport and Garoppolo hasn’t exactly carried his team to many of those 15 victories.
The 49ers are not a fluke; they’re a very good, well-coached team. It would take a huge collapse for them to not make the playoffs. Their running game and defense gives them a good chance to make a deep postseason run.
But the NFC is full of great teams and the 49ers aren’t going to blow them all out in January. At some point, it’s likely they’ll need Garoppolo to elevate his game. He’s capable of that, though he has rarely had to prove it this season. We’ll see if he can come through when it counts.
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