San Francisco 49ers

Complete story: Garoppolo’s accuracy to be tested by NFL’s top defense

Jimmy Garoppolo has completed nearly 69 percent of his passes in his first three games with the 49ers.
Jimmy Garoppolo has completed nearly 69 percent of his passes in his first three games with the 49ers. The Bee

Around the NFL, conference calls with the out-of-town media typically are used for pumping up the opposing quarterback, even the middling ones who don’t deserve the gooey praise.

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone noted there was no need for the usual Wednesday artifice when it comes to the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo.

“He is a really good NFL quarterback. We know that. That’s on film. That’s on tape,” Marrone said during a conference call. “That’s not something we have to fabricate or make him seem better than he is. … He’s as good as it gets right now for what’s going on around the league.”

Among the qualities that jumps out to Marrone: Garoppolo’s accuracy.

He connected on 31 of 43 passes in Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, a 72.1 percent completion rate. As the 49ers mounted their comeback in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo was even better – 12 of 15, which includes a spike to stop the clock on the team’s final drive.

He doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify him for the league’s official stats, but Garoppolo’s 68.7 percent accuracy rate this season would rank second to only the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees (71.8) if he did.

That means that Garoppolo has been more on-target than notable sharp shooters like Kansas City Chiefs’ Alex Smith (67.8), the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady (67.1) and Washington’s Kirk Cousins (66.1).

The 49ers’ drop rate – it had been one of the NFL’s worst early in the season – not only has improved since Garoppolo took over earlier this month, he’s shown an ability to hit targets in stride. That’s allowed pass catchers, like Trent Taylor at the end of the game against the Chicago Bears, and tight end George Kittle on Sunday against the Titans, to pick up critical yards with their feet on end-of-game drives.

“Jimmy’s got a fastball,” tight end Garrett Celek said. “He knows when to turn it up and when to turn it down. He’s got a nice touch.”

Last year Celek dropped six of the 35 catchable passes that went his way, tying him with receiver Torrey Smith for the team lead in drops. Pro Football Focus reported that his 17.1 percent drop rate was the NFL’s highest among qualifying tight ends.

This year, Celek is averaging 15.4 yards a catch and has a team-best four touchdown catches, two of them in the last two games.

“I just think we’re all on the same level,” Celek said. “The throws aren’t late. They aren’t tight throws into coverage. Right when you get open, he’s firing it in there. Everything’s kind of meshing really well right now.”

Marrone will arrive Sunday with the NFL’s best defense, one that has been particularly effective against opposing quarterbacks. The Jaguars not only have allowed fewer passing yards this season than any other defense, opponents are completing a league-low 55.9 percent of their pass attempts.

That’s what makes Garoppolo such an intriguing matchup.

On Sunday the Titans blitzed him heavily, which created plenty of one-on-one matchups and open receivers. Jacksonville, meanwhile, rarely brings a blitz.

Garoppolo said Jacksonville’s defense is a lot like the Seahawks defense his Patriots team faced in the Super Bowl two years ago and the Falcons unit they played in February. Those teams, plus the Jaguars, Chargers and 49ers, all use the same scheme.

“It’s got its pluses, it’s got its minuses just like every other defense,” he said. “It’s our job to do the best we can against it.”

Marrone noted that when a player changes teams at the trade deadline, like Garoppolo did, it can take a while to get in sync. He said he sees no sputtering between Garoppolo and the team’s play caller, Kyle Shanahan, and called them “a dangerous combination.”

“What I (mean) by that is, hey there’s a rhythm, there’s a confidence, those guys are playing at a high level,” Marrone said. “And it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Robbie Gould kicked six field goals and Jimmy Garoppolo made a last-minute drive to help the 49ers beat the Tennessee Titans 25-23 at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, December 17, 2017.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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