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Use Garcia Properly
September 20 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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The 49ers offense has been in a slump since the start of the season - actually it was pretty slow in the pre-season too, but thatís not much of a concern. Many people are quick to criticize Jeff Garcia for the 49ers offensive problems, and in many cases they are right. Garcia has been struggling - where they are wrong though, is when the question his arm strength and accuracy.

Weíve seen Garcia throw long successfully. Weíve seen Garcia throw long unsuccessfully. I donít think there is a quarterback in the league who can go down field successfully 100% of the time. It simply doesnít happen. Yes, there are quarterbacks that complete a higher percentage of downfield passes, but Iím here to tell you, that itís not a question of Garciaís arm strength that prevents the 49ers success in this area.

A long, down field pass in the NFL, or any football league for that matter is between 30-40 yards down the field. The reason for this is that it takes a receiver over four seconds to get that far down the field, even longer if they are bumped at the line of scrimmage. Most quarterback are taught to get rid of the ball in about three seconds. So passes longer than 40 yards can only happen under circumstances when the offensive line gives the quarterback a ton of time in the pocket, or when the quarterback has avoided the pass rush giving a receiver enough time to get open down field. If a quarterback chooses to hold onto the ball for much longer than three seconds, more often than not, heíll end up on his back.

Hence, arm strength in the NFL is not as big a question as most people would like you to believe. While some quarterbacks, like Jim Drukenmiller, can throw on a rope for 70-yards, that type of arm strength is not really required in the NFL. If a receiver is ever that far down field, he is more often than not out of the play, even if he is within reach of the quarterback. And so, if Garcia can thrown down field, 50 yards, accurately, itís more than enough to make big plays within the 49ers offense.

So where are the big plays then?

There are a few reasons why we havenít seen the big plays in the 49ers offense that we are used to. The first I believe has to do with Garcia - where in this case he is at fault. I believe that in the first two games he has been too quick through his progressions, looking away from a receiver, like Terrell Owens, before the receiver makes a move on the defensive back. As a result, he often dumps the ball of short to a running back.

Is Garcia the only one at fault for the speedy progressions? I personally donít believe so. I think that if Garcia had a little more confidence in his offensive line, he would be more patient with his receivers, mainly Owens, who is drawing more coverage this year, and thus needs a little more time to get open. I donít believe that the lack of confidence in the offensive line is due to poor play, but rather unfamiliarity with the line.

Finally I believe that given a change in the progressions that Garcia is given, he could make some bigger throws. A big problem with the 49ers current offense is that their second receiver, JJ Stokes, is often the fourth read in the progression. That means that a tight end and running back have to be covered for him to see the ball come his way. By moving JJ Stokes up in the progression, to the second read, or even the first it would create more opportunities for the big play, because receiver patterns are often run down field. By making Stokes the first progression, it would also provide Owens an extra split second of time to get open, and thus could slow down Garicaís tendency to go through progressions too.

What else can be done?

Another way that the 49ers can turn bigger plays is if they get Garcia rolling out of the pocket. Garcia is a more accurate and better quarterback when he throws from outside the tackles. Defenses have been concentrating on keeping Garcia in the pocket, and so he has been less effective. Garciaís ability to run, should be utilized by the 49ers to help dictate the game, and to help loosen the defense. In rolling him out to the right, the 49ers would be doing this - if they were to roll him to the left, opposite of his natural side, it could also muster some confusion in the defense.

Finally, now that center Jeremy Newberry has regained the use of his right hand, the 49ers should bring back the shotgun. Last season, Garcia was 21 for 30 from the shotgun for 205 yards. He was only sacked twice from the gun. The reason why the 49ers should bring back the shotgun is that it allows him to better survey the entire field, and gives him a split more second of time in the pocket - which of course will also help with his progressions.

To not bring change to the offense is futile. Itís not a matter of getting away from what the 49ers historically have done, but rather getting back to those things. Dictating the course of a game is key if the team intends to reach victory. To dictate a game, the 49ers need to use their players in a manner that Ďgets the most of out of their playersí. For Garcia that means rolling him out, and giving him time to see the whole field. For the receivers it means giving them time to make a play down field - and to do that, they have to be, on most plays at least, one and two in the progressions.

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