The NFL’s worst quarterbacks against every type of coverage

Who failed last season against everything from Cover-0 to Red-2? Doug Farrar reveals the NFL’s worst quarterbacks against every type of coverage.

Complexity of coverage has expanded exponentially throughout the NFL’s history, and specifically in the NFL’s recent history. The days of the Tom Landry “umbrella” base defense are long-gone, though those concepts led the way in pro football for decades. The implementation of the zone defense in the 1960s and 1970s, the acceptance of the slot defender as starter in the early days of the new millennium, spin-offs and iterations of single-high ahd two-deep concepts in recent years, and the addition of match coverage as s staple from the 1990s to now have all expanded the picture regarding what defenses can throw at quarterbacks and their targets.

Just as offenses have never been more diverse and efficiently explosive than they are now, there have never been more different ways to deal with a passing game from a coverage perspective than their are now.

In line with that, we have studied the NFL’s best quarterbacks against every type of coverage…

The NFL’s best quarterbacks against every type of coverage

…and you know how this goes. If there’s a best, there’s got to be a worst. So, here are Touchdown Wire’s worst quarterbacks against every type of pass coverage.

(All metrics courtesy of Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise indicated).

It’s time for the 49ers to start trusting Trey Lance

The 49ers have balanced Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance long enough. It’s time to rip off the Band-Aid and let Lance be the guy.

In their franchise history, the San Francisco 49ers have selected eight quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL draft. Some worked out very well (Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie), some were decent (Alex Smith, Earl Morrall, Billy Kilmer), and some were… less than spectacular (Steve Spurrier, Jim Druckenmiller).

Smith (2005) was the only quarterback selected first overall. Morrall was selected second overall in the 1956 draft. But the 49ers have never given up more to take a quarterback in the draft than they did with North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. San Francisco moved from the 12th spot to the third in a trade with the Miami Dolphins in which the 49ers gave up their first-round picks in the 2021, 2022, and 2023 drafts, and got a 2022 third-round pick and the right to make Lance the third quarterback taken last year (after Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson).

Lance’s collegiate experience was limited; he had one full season as the Bisons’ quarterback (2019), and played in just one game in the 2020 season — a 39-28 win over Central Arkansas in which he completed 15 of 30 passes for 149 yards, two touchdowns, and the only pick he threw in his college career. Lance was more of a runner than a thrower in that game, and it did amplify some concerns about his NFL transition.

What Trey Lance’s final college game tells us about his NFL future

In the 2021 preseason, Shanahan dialed up some wicked option stuff for both Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo in which counter bash concepts kept the Raiders off their feet to an embarrassing degree.

49ers give Raiders option anxiety with alternating QBs and Counter Bash

When the 49ers were ready to roll for the regular season, Garoppolo was the starter. The 49ers had already made a serious commitment to the veteran — had they released him, the dead cap debt would have been a fraction of the $26.6 million cap number incurred with Garoppolo on the team. Shanahan thought he had a winning team, and he didn’t want to upset the balance. He also knew that Lance had some work to do before he was a functional NFL quarterback.

“Stuff I thought he learned the most of was this was his first time playing in almost two years,” Shanahan said of Lance this February. “And we asked him to do a lot of different things and just watching him play in the pocket, watching him work on play actions that he didn’t get to do as much in college. He had never done a seven-step drop before, which is how a lot of play actions are. He’d always done five and trying to mess with his feet and timing of all different types of plays. I thought it was great for him. It was great experience for him and I think it was good that he could kind of sit back and watch all that and not get forced into stuff where he’s learning it and doing it for the first time at full speed versus NFL defenses, because it’s a lot harder.”

In the end, the decision to keep Garoppolo as the starter down the stretch was based on the team’s rise from irrelevance to playoff contention — a process that ultimately landed the 49ers in the NFC Championship game, losing 20-17 to the Rams.

“Towards the end of the year, I never thought about just trying to get [Lance] in because I knew that was about to come. When we were 3-5, that was kind of the breaking point where I knew it was getting close. I know everyone else thought it was there, which I agreed it was getting close to there, but once we won that game and went to 4-5 and ended up winning four in a row, I thought we had a chance. And when you’re doing that, you don’t want to mess with the team. I would’ve done it for strategic reasons, if I thought it helped, but I wasn’t going to do it just to help Trey get 4-6 plays and ease him in at that time, because that’s not what we were thinking about at that time. We were thinking about how we can get our team to the playoffs. And once we got to the playoffs, we were thinking how we could win each game, because we knew only one team was going to be happy at the end. And we’re not that happy.”

Well, about that. In Weeks 1-10, Garoppolo completed  154 of 232 passes (66.4%) for 1,936 yards (8.3 YPA), 10 touchdowns, five interceptions, and a passer rating of 97.6. From Week 11 to the NFC Championship game, Garoppolo completed 190 of 283 passes (67.1%) for 2,405 yards (8.5 YPA), 12 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a passer rating of 92.9. So, it’s not as if Garoppolo saw some massive uptick in efficiency and productivity that would make him the clear and ideal starter. In the postseason, Garoppolo completed 43 of 74 passes (58.1%) for 535 yards (7.2 YPA), two touchdowns, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 72.7.

Lance spoke in late May about his offseason process, and between what he broke down and what Shanahan said in February, the Garoppolo decision seemed more about Lance’s readiness in 2021 than anything Garoppolo brought to the table.

“I didn’t try to rewrite anything. I kind of dealt with my finger throughout the season, so for me, it was kind of getting that back and getting healthy and feeling back to myself. I felt like towards the end of the season, I wasn’t the best version of myself, overall. It was a long season, long pre-draft process with me not being in school. Everyone says it’s going to be, but you don’t really realize it until it happens. And I think the finger for me was the biggest thing just as far as throwing the ball. I kind of had to learn how to throw the ball differently without using my pointer finger I guess just because of where it was at throughout the year. But now, I feel like I’m in a great spot health-wise and throwing the ball well and I feel really good.”

Now, it should be up to Lance to assert himself as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.

“Last year I was swimming a little bit,” he said during 2022 OTAs. “It was hard to not be, being drafted and then 10 days later, rookie mini-camp. So just trying to keep up, keep up with the other guys in the room. But yeah, I feel very different this year, for sure.”

Here’s why Shanahan, his staff, and the 49ers should feel differently about Lance this time around.

49ers TE George Kittle: QB Trey Lance will be mind-boggingly special

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle says that second-year quarterback Trey Lance is ready to boggle some minds.

On Friday’s Pat McAfee show, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle spoke out on the team’s quarterback competition between veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and second-year man Trey Lance. Garoppolo was the predominant starter for the team in 2021, and helped the 49ers to an appearance in the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams — a game that ended in a 20-17 loss for San Francisco.

Before the 2021 draft, the 49ers traded their 2021, 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, along with a 2022 compensatory third-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for the right to move up from the 12th pick to third, and the right to make Lance the third quarterback taken, after Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, and Zach Wilson of the Jets. While Lawrence and Wilson got a lot of playing time in their rookie campaigns, Lance appeared in just six games, with just two starts, completing 41 passes in 71 attempts for 603 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Lance also ran 38 times for 168 yards and a touchdown.

It’s not yet known who will be San Francisco’s starting quarterback in 2022, but Kittle was clear that Lance was assisted greatly by Garoppolo’s willingness to mentor him, and that Lance’s potential is already clear.

“Jimmy G could have been an [expletive] and said, ‘It’s not my responsibility to take care of this guy and put him under my wing,'” Kittle said. “But instead, what he did is, he was professional every single day. He didn’t complain one time. He showed up. He worked. He started. He got us to an NFC Championship game, and he helped Trey along the way. I think Trey took a bunch of steps forward, and for Trey to become a really good quarterback in the NFL, he needs reps. And once this guy gets a lot of reps, watch out. Because some of the things I’ve seen him do in practice mind-boggle me. So, I’m waiting for it.”

A lot of people are waiting for it, given Garoppolo’s limitations as a quarterback. He’s a good player with some clear ceilings, while Lance, with his dynamic athleticism and outstanding am talent, is more of an open book. When he was on the field, Lance made some mistakes, but he also proved able to make tight-window (sometimes risky) throws that Garoppolo simply isn’t equipped to.

 

Garoppolo’s 49ers career may or may not have ended with this interception against the Rams in the NFC Championship game — a play that summarized a lot of the frustrations people have with Garoppolo.

Lance may also be the one to truly unlock Deebo Samuel’s potential, as Garoppolo left too many throws on the table that Samuel could have caught… if only they were released.

How other NFL teams could make the most of Deebo Samuel

“I think what I learned most about Trey is I learned that he was the person that we were banking on him being,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Lance in February. “He’s the good person, the good human that we thought, he has the work ethic we thought, he’s as smart as we thought, he’s got a natural charisma to him that I believe as a leader. He’s kind of the baby on the team this year, just in terms of his age, but he has a presence to him that people will gravitate to when he has that position. Stuff I thought he learned the most of was this was his first time playing in almost two years. And we asked him to do a lot of different things and just watching him play in the pocket, watching him work on play actions that he didn’t get to do as much in college. He had never done a seven-step drop before, which is how a lot of play actions are. He’d always done five and trying to mess with his feet and timing of all different types of plays. I thought it was great for him. It was great experience for him and I think it was good that he could kind of sit back and watch all that and not get forced into stuff where he’s learning it and doing it for the first time at full speed versus NFL defenses, because it’s a lot harder.

“But yeah, towards the end of the year, I never thought about just trying to get him in because I knew that was about to come. When we were 3-5, that was kind of the breaking point where I knew it was getting close. I know everyone else thought it was there, which I agreed it was getting close to there, but once we won that game and went to 4-5 and ended up winning four in a row, I thought we had a chance. And when you’re doing that, you don’t want to mess with the team. I would’ve done it for strategic reasons, if I thought it helped, but I wasn’t going to do it just to help Trey get 4-6 plays and ease him in at that time, because that’s not what we were thinking about at that time. We were thinking about how we can get our team to the playoffs. And once we got to the playoffs, we were thinking how we could win each game, because we knew only one team was going to be happy at the end. And we’re not that happy.”

The Garoppolo-Lance situation will be one of the most fascinating in the NFL’s new season, if Garoppolo isn’t traded by then. But Lance is apparently ready to boggle some minds.

49ers’ Jaquiski Tartt: ‘let my brothers down!!’ regarding dropped interception

Jaquiski Tartt took responsibility big time in a big way for dropping a possible pick

The San Francisco 49ers’ DB Jaquiski Tartt is taking the brunt of hits for a dropped possible interception in the fourth quarter of their 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

Shortly after the Niners’ season ended, Tartt hit social media and stepped up big time, absorbing and wearing the blame for the play.

The reaction to the play in question with the 49ers up 3 and less than 10 minutes left in the game.

Deebo Samuel ruins Rams defense for 49ers touchdown

Jimmy Garoppolo to Deebo Samuel and the 49ers have tied the Rams at SoFi

Deebo Samuel took a short pass and turned it into a long play and the San Francisco 49ers were tied with the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at SoFi in the NFC Championship Game.

Jimmy Garoppolo hit the versatile Samuel with the quick pass and the receiver did the rest, shredding the Rams’ defense en route to a 44-yard TD play.

Robbie Gould hit the PAT and the game was tied at 7-7.

The 75-yard drive took only 4 plays.

Jimmie Ward makes his third interception off Matthew Stafford this season

Jimmie Ward is a problem for Rams QB Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams has a knack for throwing passes that wind up in the hands of San Francisco 49ers DB Jimmie Ward.

After Ward picked off Stafford twice the first time the teams played in the regular season — his only picks during the 17-game campaign — Ward was at it again in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at SoFi Stadium.

Coope Kupp was covered and the ball deflected in the air to Ward, who plucked it and returned it for 23 yards in the first quarter.

On the play, Fred Warner of the Niners delivered a head shot to Stafford on the return but the officials missed throwing a penalty flag.

How the 49ers can — and must — solve the Jalen Ramsey problem

If the 49ers want to get to their second Super Bowl in three seasons, they’ll have to solve the Jalen Ramsey problem.

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey is arguably the best at his position in the NFL. His size, technique and anticipation are unmatched. This five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro will have a big task ahead of him as he must lead this Los Angeles Rams defense in physicality and communication against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

Oftentimes, opponents will avoid Ramsey’s side of the field completely, which means he won’t get many plays on the ball. Because of this, there are times Ramsey will overpursue in order to make a play. Some teams, including the 49ers, have used this against him.

It’s not often that Ramsey gets beat; and to be fair, the 49ers won’t have any Mike Evans-caliber receivers out there.

So, plays like this are unlikely to happen. The 49ers will have to take a different approach in order to beat Ramsey.

Two of the many traits of Ramsey’s game that take him to the next level are his physicality and mental processing. Since Ramsey can recognize a play developing, he does a great job closing to the ball quickly.

When Ramsey is the furthest defender to the outside without a wide out blocking, there is absolutely no point in running in his direction. He has proved that he will not be out muscled one-on-one.

One way the 49ers exploited his aggressiveness in 27-24 overtime win in Week 18 was to let Ramsey overpursue.

In the clip below, the tight-end sells the fake block perfectly and with the motion lead-blocking for Deebo Samuel, we can’t blame Ramsey for falling for that one. Who knew Samuel had an arm like that?!

The 49ers will have to have some tricks up their sleeve, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will have to execute to perfection.

Against man coverage, Garoppolo might have to look off some his throws and use pump fakes to get his receivers open against Ramsey. On rub routes, he must remain patient and allow the pick to play out.

In week 10, Ramsey was defending the slot, as he went inside, the wideout took two steps forward then cut inside.

In Week 18, the 49ers used a similar rub route concept, except this time, Ramsey was lined up on the outside. He still bit on the underneath route.

Garoppolo’s pump fake really made the difference here and allowed his receiver to get some space from Ramsey.

In this zone-match defense, the other way to beat Ramsey is by forcing him to defend the in route when he is playing off coverage.

On these routes, since it’s tough to beat Ramsey over the top, underneath is the way to go. These routes are open. Keep in mind that if Ramsey is in zone, he won’t even break inside because the nickel corner will be there.

The next progression from the in route is the dig; this is where a receiver will fake a go route and then cut inside.

Ramsey has great anticipation but the chance of getting beat by a double move allows a little bit of separation at the receiver’s break.

Trick plays, rub routes and digs should all be in the game plan this weekend for the 49ers.

It’s almost impossible to avoid Ramsey completely, but these are a few ways to beat him in man and zone-match coverage. Garoppolo must sell his fakes, remain patient and try not to throw it to Ramsey when he is defending out routes, Those are his specialty.

If the 49ers solve the Ramsey problem, they could well be on their way to another Super Bowl.

Secret Superstars of the NFL’s conference championship games

Arik Armstead, Tyler Higbee, Sam Hubbard, and Juan Thornhill are four underrated players whose presence could mean a lot in the championship games.

Matthew Stafford. Joe Burrow. Patrick Mahomes. Nick Bosa. Aaron Donald. Cooper Kupp. Odell Beckham Jr. Tyreek Hill. Ja’Marr Chase. Deebo Samuel.

The Conference Championship games for the 2021 NFL season are filled with some of the league’s biggest names, and justifiably so. But every big game also has “smaller” names who rise up at the right time to make things happen when they’re most needed.

Here’s one under-the-radar player for each of the four remaining teams in the tournament, whose exploits could swing things in the directions of their franchises on the way to Super Bowl LVI.

Film study: Why Fred Warner is crucial to Niners defense

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick breaks down film to explain why 49ers linebacker Fred Warner is so valuable.

The San Francisco 49ers improbably have earned a spot in the NFC Championship Game.

The sixth-seeded Niners were road underdogs against the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Undeterred, San Francisco won those games by six and three points, respectively.

Now, the Niners meet a familiar foe in the NFC West-rival Los Angeles Rams with a trip to Super Bowl LVI at stake.

San Francisco’s defense is playing at a high level, having only allowed three touchdowns in those two games. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers only reached the end zone once last week, and when we dove into the film, we saw why. The secret to the 49ers’ defensive scheme went through middle linebacker Fred Warner.

Last week, Warner and defensive end Nick Bosa were graded as the top defenders of the game by Pro Football Focus.

As PFF’s Seth Galina pointed out, for the entire game, the Niners’ defensive tackles lined up in 2i technique (off the center) forcing the double-team and freeing up the A gap for Warner to penetrate.

Most zone-blocking schemes use double-teams when running the ball up the middle, as the linemen work up to the second level of the defense.

The great thing about zone blocking is that if the running back has good vision and patience, the ground game can be extremely efficient. The downside is if you are playing a team with flexible defensive tackles, the defense can essentially open the lanes that it chooses depending on where its players line up. Once a gap is opened up from a double-team, the offensive linemen won’t have time to work their way up to the second level with a linebacker coming through the middle — as seen in the clip above.

Back in Week 18, the Rams offense ran similar plays. In the clip below, they clog the middle with blockers. But Warner switches to the B gap and makes the tackle, anyway.

One of the main differences between the first clip and the second was how motion shifted the linebackers, leaving the A gap devoid of defenders. If ball carrier Sony Michel would have cut to the outside, he may have had success against nickel cornerback Dontae Johnson as left guard David Edwards was working his way upfield.

A few weeks later, Warner no longer shifts, giving the offense no open lanes for the tailback.

Below is an example of Warner and weak-side linebacker Dre Greenlaw moving together on a string to keep the gaps plugged.

Over the course of the season, many of the Rams’ most successful run plays went to the outside. So the Rams might try to get between the ends and tackles (C gap) along the 49ers’ wide-nine defensive line.

Last week, Warner received the highest PFF grade of his career, 94.2. This grade was deserved not only because he dominated in stopping the run. He used the same aggressiveness and anticipation in the screen game as well.

In the clip below, Warner’s responsibility in coverage was to pick up tailback Aaron Jones escaping into the flat. But as soon as he notices the offensive linemen getting upfield, he no longer waits to be blocked. Instead, he engages Jones as the ball arrives from Rodgers.

We saw how Warner can be a force up the middle against the run and his aggressiveness when identifying a screen pass. Now let’s move on to the downfield passing game, where Warner’s coverage flexibility really is something special.

One of the best receivers in football right now, Cooper Kupp, is someone Warner will have to monitor when dropping back into zone coverage against the Rams — because the Niners can’t afford to give up big plays downfield.

On Sunday, expect to see Warner drop back into coverage with his eyes on Kupp. This will give the Niners’ defensive line time to apply pressure and try to force Stafford into bad throws. This is what led to an interception by the Niners defense in Week 18.

Similar to the clip above, last week against the Packers, Warner was aware of Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver, Davante Adams, who was running a crosser over the middle of the field.

Warner stays in the line of vision between Adams and his quarterback, forcing Rodgers to dump the ball off to tight end Marcedes Lewis. Warner then forced Lewis to fumble, and Greenlaw recovered. Turnovers such as these can change the complexion of a game.

Not only does Warner have good acceleration, but he also can drop into a deep quarter or third when asked.

Warner’s fluid hips and speed allow him to keep up with just about any tight end in the league. During this postseason, Warner ranks second overall among linebackers in pass coverage, with an 88.5 PFF grade when dropping back in man defense.

If the Rams come out in an empty set, expect Warner to cover tight end Tyler Higbee as he goes deep. This will be a key man-coverage matchup to look for. When Warner drops into zone coverage, he will be looking to help bracket Kupp as he runs across the middle of the field. (Bracketing is when one defender is high, above the receiver, and another defender is low, in front).

If the Niners are to beat the Rams on Sunday, the San Francisco defense must play a big role — and the Rams would be wise to account for Warner in both the passing and run game.

49ers’ fans opportunity to buy NFC Championship game tickets

NFC Championship game tickets are readily available on the secondary market

There was a big hullabaloo over the Los Angeles Rams trying to block San Francisco 49ers fans from staging another takeover of SoFi Stadium for the NFC Championship game.

Fear not those in Northern California, the TicketMaster block has been lifted.

That is because all the face-value tickets have been sold for Round 3 Sunday between the NFC champion Rams and Wild-Card 49ers with a spot in Super Bowl on the line.

The 49ers’ fans wallets will be tested if they want to enter SoFi on Sunday. The secondary market is littered with tickets available.

On the TicketMaster site alone, there is a flood of pink seats on the map. Just click on any section and you will have your choice of where you can buy tickets and sit to boo the home team if you are from out of town.

However, note the cheapest price for a ticket — the get-in number — is $510. And that’s for a nosebleed in the 17th row of the upper deck.

Seems like the secondary market negates the ability to block road fans from getting into games. Just another strategy gone awry,