SANTA CLARA — What Jimmy Garoppolo has been able to do with the 49ers has been nothing short of incredible.
Without the benefit of an offseason and training camp to learn head coach Kyle Shanahan’s complicated playbook, Garoppolo has resurrected the franchise. The Niners are going to end the season as the best team to not make the playoffs regardless of what happens this Sunday in Los Angeles.
But, how does he do it? How can a quarterback inherit a beat-up offensive line that was regularly allowing 10-plus hits a week and score at will against some of the best defenses in the NFL?
The simple answer: He improvises.
Garoppolo’s first touchdown pass as a 49er was on a broken play, where he scrambled to his left and found wide receiver Louis Murphy who had shaken free of his defender for an easy score. That was just the beginning of the trend.
Trent Taylor, Garrett Cleek and George Kittle have all been beneficiaries of Garoppolo’s ability to create “off-script” — the NFL’s newest term for when a play breaks down.
It’s made a difference in the red zone, particularly, where defenses can load up on players in the secondary and rely on their defensive lineman to put pressure on the quarterback. Garoppolo being able to sidestep rushers and then find receivers — who are benefitting from the extra time in their routes — has been a major boon for the offense.
“I always sit there and right when I see that it’s over I feel like the play’s done, but Jimmy has proved me wrong the last few weeks,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “That’s been real fun for me, seeing no one open then knowing that maybe that’s a good thing because he ends up getting someone open late. The off-schedule plays have been the best thing to me personally.”
Turning what previously were sacks into completions and positive plays has been the heart of the Niners’ turnaround.
Since Week 13, no quarterback has a higher completion percentage while under pressure (65.2 percent) than Garoppolo, according to Pro Football Focus.
Shanahan said Garoppolo’s ability to improvise comes organically and that they work because his teammates believe in him and continue working to make the play a success even after it breaks down.
“It’s kind of something that just happens,” Garoppolo said. “That’s why when I first got here it was tougher, but as you can see week after week we keep getting better at those types of plays and converting more of them.”
He’s making his offensive line look better than it has in years and it just makes you wonder how much better Shanahan’s attack will be when the pair have a full offseason to work together. Because if it’s this good when it’s broken down, imagine how good it could be when it’s actually working as planned.
With a playoff berth already clinched, the Los Angeles Rams aren’t going to risk losing impact players in their Week 17 matchup against the 49ers. Head coach Sean McVay announced Wednesday that former Cal quarterback Jared Goff, as well as Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan would not be playing in the regular-season finale.