Analysis

Quick Slants: Talent-Rich 49ers Being Held Back by Jimmy Garoppolo

In Quick Slants, former NFL team executive Joe Banner provides a unique perspective each week on the NFL, its players and coaches. This week, he takes on multiple topics, including:

>> Tampa Bay’s struggles under Todd Bowles

>> Matt Ryan’s demotion and the Colts’ Continuous QB Carousel

>> Joe Burrow’s place among the NFL’s top QBs

>> Four teams headed in two surprisingly different directions

But first, a look at the most talented offensive roster in the NFL and why it is struggling …

 

The 49ers are a shockingly talented team. I can’t remember one that’s had better and more versatile offensive weapons – with or without Christian McCaffrey. Unfortunately, that doesn’t extend to the quarterback.

I’ve always been lukewarm on Jimmy Garoppolo. I think he’s an average player whose win-loss record is misleading, and that was evident on Sunday in the 49ers’ lopsided loss to the Chiefs

He threw an interception to a rookie cornerback just before halftime. He took a safety in the fourth quarter that left you shocked about his lack of awareness (how long did he actually think the line could hold its blocks?). The possession after that, he took a strip sack where he – again – seemed unaware of what was going on around him. There were receivers open repeatedly throughout the game he couldn’t find. 

The 49ers are now 3-4, which is astounding considering the wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, especially on offense. I don’t know if they’re going to get it together, but if there was a quarterback they could acquire before next week’s trade deadline, I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a move. 

The 49ers should be competing with Philadelphia right now for the best record in the NFC based on talent alone. Instead, they’re in third place in the NFC West, a game behind Seattle. 

This is a team to watch closely because there’s a wide finish range that includes missing the playoffs to winning the Super Bowl. I think the odds are higher the 49ers will get it together, but right now, they are a long way from the NFC Championship team they were last season.

Is Bowles the Problem in Tampa?

After losing their fourth straight game on Sunday – the latest to a team that had fired its head coach two weeks ago, traded two of their top three skill-position players on offense last week and started a third-string quarterback – it might be time to reassess Tampa Bay’s coaching staff and the Buccaneers’ impact of losing Bruce Arians.

I don’t want to skip over the fact the players aren’t performing well, but the hyper-focus on a lack of execution is too simplistic. There needs to be recognition that a tremendously talented head coach retired and was replaced by someone who did a poor job in his first stint as an NFL head coach. In four seasons with the Jets (2015-2018), Todd Bowles had an overall record of 24-40, including 14-34 over three consecutive last-place finishes to finish out his tenure in New York.

I worked with Todd for a year in Philadelphia, and I thought he would do a good job in Tampa, having been acclimated there for three years as Arians’ defensive coordinator. But, there have been some consequential changes to this year’s Buccaneers team, from top to bottom and on both sides of the ball.

For example, first-down passes are among the most effective plays in football, yet the Buccaneers have run more than they have passed on first downs in neutral situations in three of the team’s first seven games. The defense also isn’t playing nearly as well as it had over the last two seasons when Bowles coordinated it and had as much to do with the team’s Super Bowl win as any coach on staff. 

He’s one of the smartest defensive coaches in the NFL, and his units are always tops in the league. But I wonder if he’s trying to do too many things at once now, a common mistake for many head coaches. 

One of the reasons teams worry about hiring a defensive-minded head coach is because of how they’re trained. They try to shorten the game, and reduce the point total and yards allowed. That’s how they get measured as a coordinator. It is totally different when you become the head coach and are involved in more than just one facet of the game. 

Similarly, Byron Leftwich and the offense have been worse off since the offensive-minded Arians stepped down. A year ago, they ranked either first or second in points per game, yards per game and passing yards per game, and were fifth in third-down conversions. Through seven games this season, the Bucs rank in the bottom third of almost every major offensive category.

And it could get even worse with the Ravens, Rams and a surprising Seahawks team (see below) on deck. 

Simply pointing out injuries and retirements – and they, no doubt, have had an impact this season – is incomplete when looking at what’s going on in Tampa Bay.

Colts’ Continuous QB Carousel

Maybe we should have all seen it coming. Certainly, there were hints last week of the Indianapolis Colts’ decision to bench quarterback Matt Ryan.

At the Fall League Meeting in New York, owner Jim Irsay was asked about Ryan’s performance this season, his quarterback’s first in Indianapolis. In his response, Irsay skated around the question. Instead of talking about Ryan’s physical attributes or skills, he commented on the 37-year-old’s leadership abilities. 

“I’ll tell you, he is a steely-eyed missile man,” Irsay told NFL.com. “I’ve been around a lot of leaders and I’d put him right up there with Peyton Manning. A really outstanding, tough guy who doesn’t back down. Often the best in the fourth quarter and you don’t ever want to count out Matt Ryan. He’s a winner, he’s a fighter and our team is taking on that temperament around him, which is exciting. More will be revealed, no question about it. But we’re encouraged, we really are.”

First of all, I don’t think owners should be commenting on players or performances in-season. It’s perfectly fine to do it behind closed doors or with a head coach, but I don’t see what there is to gain by putting this out publicly.

When I read Irsay’s comments, I saw them differently than most; I saw them as a strong criticism of Ryan. He’s paying his quarterback a lot of money – Ryan’s cap hit is $18.7 million this year and $35.2 million in 2023 – to play well, win football games and lead the team. I thought it was telling he focused on Ryan’s leadership instead of his play on the field. In his answer, Irsay isolated the least important elements of a quarterback’s success.

The truth is, the Colts have played much worse than their 3-3-1 record, with a weak overall schedule and all three wins coming in the final minute of regulation or in OT. 

When they acquired Ryan from the Atlanta Falcons last March for a third-round draft pick, most observers thought it put an end to the team’s yearly QB carousel. Now, just seven games into Ryan’s Indy tenure, the Colts are making their fifth change in five years. 

Best QB in NFL? Add Another Name to Conversation

I think the 2020s are going to be the decade of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. I’d be surprised if they have fewer than three or four Super Bowl titles by the end of it. Similarly, Josh Allen is just amazing to watch. A quarterback with that size, mobility and ability to throw the ball like he does is incredible.

With that said, I don’t see how Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow isn’t in that same conversation. His coaching isn’t as good, and he’s playing behind a weak offensive line, but he took a good team to the Super Bowl last year by beating teams that were far better on paper. Now, he’s playing again with a bad offensive line and a defense that is good but not exceptional. 

On Sunday, in a 35-17 win over the Falcons, Burrow completed 81% of his passes for almost 500 yards against a team that entered the game with a .500 record. 

Somehow, he’s getting left out of that conversation. Sometimes that happens in small markets like Cincinnati, but Mahomes and Allen play in Kansas City and Buffalo, so that’s not the explanation. 

I thought last year it might be the small-market thing with Burrow, but a Super Bowl appearance usually changes the perception of quarterbacks, putting them on a stage of no longer having to prove themselves. That didn’t seem to happen with Burrow, and it should have.

He’s proven he’s just as talented as Mahomes and Allen, and at the moment, he’s overcoming much larger obstacles than the other two, including less talent around him on the field and inferior coaches. 

Bottom line: He should no longer have to take a backseat. 

Four Teams, Two Directions

We’re far enough into the season we should no longer be dealing with pre-season perceptions. After seven weeks, these four teams might just be who they currently are:

Seahawks and Giants

Seattle is an astounding story. The Seahawks have a young roster that’s challenging the notion that experience is vitally important. 

They’ve taken a quarterback – Geno Smith – three other teams had given up on and turned him into a top-10 passer by nearly every metric. And now, they’re leading a division most believed at the beginning of the season would be the strongest in the NFL. 

I’m impressed with what they’re doing. I don’t know if they’ll sustain it because the talent there is limited, but the fact they are leading the division and have controlled almost every game from the minute it started is incredibly impressive. If you told me Seattle would be leading that division with Pete Carroll playing as conservatively on offense as he always has and with Smith as his starting quarterback, I’d say there was no chance.

The Giants have a similar story. They have a great combination of head coach Brian Daboll and DC Wink Martindale, but the talent does not match their 6-1 record. We’ve seen situations like this before where over the course of a season the talent level eventually catches up, and the record starts to flatten. That might happen here, but for now, the Giants’ coaching staff is putting players in a position to succeed and cover up weaknesses. 

Before the season, the NFC East was considered the weakest division in football, but now it has three teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Daboll and his staff have done an exceptional job.

Bucs and Packers

On the flip side to the Seahawks and Giants are the Buccaneers and Packers, who have two of the most iconic players to ever play the game in Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Neither are playing well right now and their sub-.500 teams are following their leads. 

I hope they get it turned around. I’ve always hated when sports icons stayed in the game too long and ended their careers on a bad note. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on with Brady and Rodgers. It’s too early to say that. Neither one of them currently resemble the great players they have been throughout their careers. Whatever the reasons for it, it doesn’t settle well with me. 

You see the frustration on both of their faces. You can just watch them and tell how painful this season has been. Brady’s sideline explosion against Atlanta in Week 6 and Rodgers lying face down after the Packers’ final play against Washington on Sunday are perfect illustrations. 

I can’t imagine what they were thinking while driving home after terrible losses to inferior opponents this week. What does that feel like for highly competitive and prideful players who for the last 15-plus years have been the best at their craft?

 

Scroll to the Top