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49ers’ Offense Is Reliant Upon Two Unproven Players

San Francisco has a talent-laden offensive roster, which includes receivers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and tight end George Kittle. However, they also have a couple of key positions that are very thin, and manned by ordinary and/or inexperienced players. I have my doubts that QB Jimmy Garoppolo and RB Elijah Mitchell will hold up well after this long season and under the strain of playoff football.

Jan 16, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys free safety Damontae Kazee (18) attempts to tackle San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (25) during the second half of the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at AT&T Stadium. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Running Back

Let’s start with running back Elijah Mitchell. Two years ago, the Niners had three running backs of nearly equal ability – and speed. It was Raheem Mostert who broke Packer fans’ hearts in the playoffs, as he went off for 220 yards on 29 carries. On that season, Raheem had 137 carries, as did Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida was close behind at 123. Raheem was good for 772 rushing yards, Breida for 623, and Coleman for 544.

How quickly things can change. Mostert, still with the Niners, missed almost the entire 2021 season with serious cartilage damage to his knee. Coleman joined the Jets in 2021, but only started two games for them. Breida spent 2020 with Miami and 2021 with Buffalo. He was primarily a special teams player with the Bills.

This time around the weight is all on the rookie Mitchell. His role on the team picked up as the season went on. From mid-November forward, and when not injured, he played in five regular season games and had at least 21 carries each time. Twice he had 27 carries, the same number he had against the Cowboys. Though he looked solid on Monday night, he averaged a modest 3.6 yards per carry in accumulating 96 yards. On the year though, he averaged a solid 4.7 yards per carry, and ran for 963 yards.

Mitchell has been an eye-opener in the Niners backfield. At 5’10” and 200 pounds, the 23-year old 6th round draft pick is about the size of Aaron Jones. Like Jones, the rookie comes from an FBS (lower division) college, Louisiana – Lafayette. In 2020 he was named to the Sun Belt’s All-Conference team.

The Niners have for years obtained similar running backs, and have done so on the cheap, to man their backfield. The similarity is speed. Mitchell ran a 4.35 40-yard dash, Breida and Mostert did a 4.38; and Coleman was timed at 4.40. If the Packers’ defense can cope with Mitchell’s speed, then quarterback Garoppolo will need an uncharacteristically strong game if the Niners are to prevail. It really matters little who the running back is for the Niners – as long as he’s fast. Though Kyle Shanahan has not shown himself to be a great coach when it comes to winning games, he is a great offensive technician, and his offensive schemes get his running backs in lots of open space.

Mitchell will have his hands full on Saturday. He’s small, he’s been overworked of late, and he’ll be playing only six days after Monday’s 27-carry effort. Mitchell is quite one dimensional, with only 19 pass receptions, and for only 137 yards, on the year.

Asking this rookie to carry the rushing load against the Packers, in this win-or-go-home environment, is asking a lot. The 49ers’ only other rushers on Monday were Garoppolo (1 yard) and receiver Deebo Samuel (10 carries for 72 yards). There is little depth behind Mitchell, unless you’re a fan of JaMycal Hasty, who went undrafted in 2020 and who’s 5’8” tall.

If nothing else, when Samuel lines up in the backfield it telegraphs the likelihood that he’ll be getting the ball. On the year, Samuel has rushed 59 times for 265 yards, a fine 6.1 yard average. Monday was the first time Deebo’s had more than eight rushes in a pro game, so we can expect him to rush at least as many times on Saturday. A year ago, Samuel only rushed eight times total, for 26 yards. Samuel fits the Niners’ mold of rushers: he ran a 4.49 dash, though at 5’11” and 214 pounds he has the build of an RB more than that of a WR.

The Quarterback

The pro career of Jimmy Garoppolo is widely known. He was selected, out of Eastern Illinois, by the Patriots in Round 2 of the 2014 draft. After seeing next to no action as Tom Brady’s backup, he was traded to the Niners in mid-season of 2017. Somewhere along the line he got a gaudy contract, though he’s only had one fine yea: as the starter – when he led the 49ers to a 13-3 record in 2019. He of course aided his team in demolishing the Packers in that postseason – though he completed only six of eight passes for 72 yards.

It’s no secret that the 49ers doubt that Jimmy is the guy to lead them to the mountaintop. Last April they used the third overall draft pick on QB Trey Lance. He’s out of North Dakota State, where he led the Bison to two FCS championships, and was named MVP in the game played in 2020. He started two games for San Francisco this year, and on the year he passed for just over 600 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions, and compiling a decent 97.3 passer rating. Fans should beware of what they wish for, as not only are Lance’s passing numbers respectable, but he’s as mobile as Garoppolo is not.

Garoppolo is not in great health as the game against the Packers approaches. He’s been dealing with a thumb injury since around Christmas, and now he’s also got what the team calls a “slight” shoulder strain – this is a new injury that apparently occurred in the second quarter of the Cowboys game. As Howard noted, Jimmy G’s accuracy appeared to decline in the second half of the game. Rumors are flying that Garoppolo might not get the start this weekend.

Against the Boys, his numbers were disappointing: 16 of 25 for 172 yards (6.9 ave.), for no touchdowns and one interception, and a dismal passer rating of 67.4. Playoff games are seldom won when a quarterback suffers that poor of a rating.

I believe that Garoppolo, who’s now 30, is contracted with SF through 2022, and he stands to earn $27 million if the team keeps him next year. However, few believe that will happen. “Unproven” might not be the right word. Jimmy G has shown himself to be a very average pro quarterback – not what you’d want in a QB-centric era, much less in the playoffs.

Conclusions

Though San Francisco has some top talent, it doesn’t reside with their starting QB, and I’m far from ready to accept that Elijah Mitchell is a top tier NFL running back.

This game offers Packers’ ILB De’Vondre Campbell a great opportunity to show the world why he came out of nowhere at season’s end to be named a first-team All-Pro. By the way, heading into the meaningless game against Detroit, for which Campbell was held out, I recall that he led the entire league, by five, in solo tackles. If Campbell and his mates are able to limit Mitchell from breaking loose for big runs, I don’t see the Niners scoring more than 20 points in Lambeau’s cold clime. I’m also hopng to see some better pursuit and tacling from safety Darnell Savage.

As to the coaching rivalry, things stand at: Shanahan – two wins, including the 2019 playoff game, and LaFleur – two wins, in the regular seasons of 2020 and 2021. This will be the rubber match.

And let’s hope that the Packers are by now prepared to spot and snuff out any trick plays that the Niners likely have in mind.

Tags:
Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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16 Comments

  1. rebelgb January 21, 2022

    Great article! Like i said in a previous post, this isnt the 49ers who kicked our ass a few years back. Expect the Pack to win. Anything else will be a Packer blunder, not a 49er success.

  2. Mick January 21, 2022

    Good article Rob. Totally agree that Campbells’ sure tackling will be huge in this game. If either Mercilus or Z. Smith, (or both); play, the pass rush will shine. Also, both can hold the edges well. The STs’ will need to play disciplined football. Since 2012, the STs’ have only finished above the mendoza line (16th) once; back in 2012 they were 12th. Since 2014, they have finished 32nd 3 times, 29th twice, and 26th once, that’s 6 out of the last 8 years they’ve finished 26th, or worse. Surprisingly, even though the STs’ haven’t been the reason this team has lost games, they sure had us sitting on the edge of our seats all year long. Unlike last year when the NFCCG was played in 30 degree weather, this divisional game will be played in the single digits. Welcome to Wisconsin football in January San Fran!

  3. Skinny January 21, 2022

    Gotta love the national media blowhards refusing to acknowledge the Packers have kicked San Frans ass in the trenches the last two times they’ve played. I guess the story line is still the 19 NFC championship loss and the 13 wild card game loss of all things, lol. Unreal. 2013 wasnt an upset. Rodgers missed most of that season with a shoulder injury. Thet Pack barely squeaked into the playoffs that year. Pete Schrager calling that game an upset and that it could happen again is so fucking stupid and lazy. Good Morning Football should all be fired for the shit they’ve talked all week. Just ridiculous. All the hypothetical if the Packers lose what should happen with the organization talk. All the Packers wont be able to stop Deebo talk. Total lazy reporting on their end all week. So disappointed a hot chick like Kay Adams would stoop this low for clicks.

  4. Tom M January 21, 2022

    Over his last 21 playoff games Aaron Rodgers is a very average 12-9. Conversely, Tom Brady is 18-3. Which explains why there’s a 7-1 SB ring differential. And if you remove the 2010 playoff run where the Packers ran the table, Rodgers is a mere 8-9 in the playoffs since then. Nevertheless Rodgers is superior to Garapolo even on his best day who still gives them the best chance of winning over Trey Lance. Elijah Mitchell is a nice back to be sure, but he’s no Cam Akers or Leonard Fournette who the Packers would face in the NFCC game if they win. The 49ers strength is their defensive front that may not be 100% on Saturday. Much has been said about the 2019 playoff loss to the 49ers in the NFCC game. It’s important to note that Packer team was coming off a 6-9-1 season, with a young, rookie HC and a second year GM. While Rodgers had his worst statistical season, throwing a mere 26 TD’s. The argument can be made that team over achieved. No one expected 13 wins let alone a trip to the NFCC game that season. When you compare both rosters now to when they last met in the playoffs, the Packers are clearly superior. Will that translate to a win on Saturday? We shall see.

  5. Arch Stanton January 21, 2022

    This game is simple. If the Packers stop the run they more than likely win. If they don’t stop the run they more than likely lose. I wouldn’t be hoping for a Jimmy G. injury in this game. If Trey Lance comes into the game then the packers have to worry about another runner. We all know how well that’s gone for the defense this year.

  6. PF4L January 21, 2022

    Brandon Aiyuk?….that name seems to ring a bell.
    .
    Wasn’t he the 6th receiver chosen in the first round of a reported, strong wide receiver draft class?
    .
    He might have made a valuable #2 receiver, catching 56 passes for 826 yards this season (14.8 YPC).
    Who knew…right?
    Probably would have caught over a 1,000 yards w/Rodgers over Jimmy G.
    .
    That may have been a good late first for the 9ers, the Packers themselves were very, very solid.
    The Packers got the services of Jordan Love for the mere cost of a first round, and 4th round pick.
    .
    When i say…services, what i mean (i guess) is possible future service.
    .
    Ahhhh….the sweet feeling when a new GM gets the warm and fuzzy feelings in his tummy to trade up for his franchise QB.
    .
    Sure, using a 1st round and a 4th round draft choice didn’t help the team in the last two NFCCG.
    .
    But….the future looks bright with Jordan Love when he’s ready to take the controls.
    .
    In Gute We Trust.

  7. rebelgb January 21, 2022

    Im trying not to think about it (Jordon Love). As a past supporter I am quickly losing any faith in the chances of him being anything but mediocre. I still hope that he ends up being as good as Gute thinks he is. However his last appearance showed a QB who cant throw a tight spiral half the time he throws the ball. How was this not noticed before? Did they mess up his mechanics? Surely if he had trouble with throwing a good football (small hands maybe)? It would have been noticed before he was drafted. He played what 4 years of college? So whats the deal?

    Heres my hope: Pack wins the SB, Aaron wins MVP, FO assures Arodge that they will do anything neccessary to keep the team mostly in tack for another run in 2022, Arodge sticks around, Love gets traded, Pack sets eye on QB in 2023 draft.

    I know im dreaming big, but hey, theres only 2 other alternatives and they both suck: 1- Pack loses shot at SB, Arodge leaves team, Pack fans endure 20 years of shit football. 2- Pack wins SB, Arodge still leaves, Pack fans are happy to be winners for 8 months only to then endure 20 years of shit football.

  8. rebelgb January 21, 2022

    Im trying not to think about it (Jordon Love). As a past supporter I am quickly losing any faith in the chances of him being anything but mediocre. I still hope that he ends up being as good as Gute thinks he is. However his last appearance showed a QB who cant throw a tight spiral half the time he throws the ball. How was this not noticed before? Did they mess up his mechanics? Surely if he had trouble with throwing a good football (small hands maybe)? It would have been noticed before he was drafted. He played what 4 years of college? So whats the deal?

    Heres my hope: Pack wins the SB, Aaron wins MVP, FO assures Arodge that they will do anything neccessary to keep the team mostly in tack for another run in 2022, Arodge sticks around, Love gets traded, Pack sets eye on QB in 2023 draft.

    I know im dreaming big, but hey, theres only 2 other alternatives and they both suck: 1- Pack loses shot at SB, Arodge leaves team, Pack fans endure 20 years of shit football. 2- Pack wins SB, Arodge still leaves, Pack fans are happy to be winners for 8 months only to then endure 20 years of shit football.

  9. PF4L January 22, 2022

    MarkinMadison
    January 21, 2022 at 05:01 pm
    .
    The only place I need to see the talking happening is on the field. And I don’t need words. I just need W’s.

  10. Deepsky January 22, 2022

    Brandon Aiyuk. There were a lot of folks who thought the Packers intended to draft him when they traded up, not Love, but the 49ers unexpectedly traded up to get him. The pick game from the Vikings too who probably didn’t want to see Rodgers with another weapon and would have never traded with the Packers for that spot.

  11. Tom M January 22, 2022

    Brandon Aiyuk is a nice slot receiver but hardly a difference maker. He spent the first half of this season mostly on the bench and in Kyle Shanahan’s dog house. Think a younger version of Randall Cobb. And that’s probably a generous comparison, not even sure he’s that. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Remember all those SB wins after Cobb was drafted? Yeah, I don’t either. Aiyuk was drafted right after the 49ers lost the SB. He and Deebo Samuel we’re going to be the wideouts to put Jimmy G over the top to beat Patrick Mahomes and the high powered Chiefs offense. How’d that work out for them? The real question here is Trey Lance better than Jordan Love? Because the 49ers could have had Jordan Love and kept all their picks for the price it cost to draft Brandon Aiyuk. If Lance turns out better than Love, then the answer is yes, it was the right call. But if not, or if they’re the same, then not only did 49ers miss on the 3rd overall pick. But everything they gave up to move up to make that selection. It’s still yet to be determined.

  12. Deepsky January 22, 2022

    I don’t think it matters who the 49ers have at running back, they will absolutely dominate the run game. The 49ers have a superior offensive line to the Packers and a superior run game scheme, and I think this game is going to look a lot like the 2019 playoff game in San Fran, maybe worse. Different defensive coach for the Packers, same problem. The Packers have massive holes in their run defense. That 2019 season the Packers gave up 4.7 yards a carry and couldn’t stop the 49ers and is exactly the same ypc this season. The cold won’t matter to the 49ers, the game time temperature at Lambeau was 5 degrees in 2014 and the 49ers walked into town and beat the Packers with 160+ rushing yards.

    Rodgers for whatever reason can’t beat the 49ers in a playoff game. He’s 0-3. He may play fairly well, but once the uncalled PI and uncalled late hits happen as they always do in playoff games, especially against a top defense, the Packers offensive players will wilt and give up the ball like they always do, putting the Packers behind, forcing Rodgers to throw.

    I’m considering this to be the last football game we will see with Rodgers in a Packers uniform. He probably won’t look great this game, but as he will be the best QB the Packers ever had, I’m going to enjoy it for what it is.

  13. PF4L January 22, 2022

    Good idea

  14. rebelgb January 22, 2022

    LOL Deepsky your funny. Let me explain a few things your overlooking, maybe intentionally just to be a naysayer. I dont care what our defense was statistically the last 6 games of the season; one of those games didnt count and the Packers played like a pre season game. So 5 games. What I care about is this: Campbell/ Alexander/ ZSmith. Having Alexander allows you to man up freeing up Campbell. Zsmith requiring attention from the 49ers helps free up Clark and Gary.

    I’ll bet you dinner at Culvers the 49ers dont break 120yds rushing total.

    What say you?

  15. Tom M January 22, 2022

    Cheer up guys. We beat the 49ers in the regular season something we didn’t do two years ago. We can do it again tonight. Campbell is a huge upgrade over Blake Martinez at ILB. As is Barry over Pettine. While Gary sets the edge and plays the run better than ZaDarius. Mitchell isn’t the back a healthy Moshert is. Plus it’ll be 40 plus degrees colder than it was at Levi Stadium. And we didn’t have AJ Dillion. If we can get the running game going, with quick throws by Rodgers to neutralize the pass rush, this is a very winnable game. The Cowboys beat themselves and played like the Raiders. Committing 14 penalties, I just don’t see the Packers that undisciplined. That ‘14 49er team, like the Packer team, is of no comparison of either team now. Save for Rodgers. He can do this. So long as he doesn’t throw an INT early.

  16. Deepsky January 22, 2022

    Well I wrong about the 49ers running game, but right about Rodgers looking like crap again against his favorite team.