SANTA CLARA – With his quick release and surgical accuracy that enables his receivers the ability to turn upfield and run after the catch without breaking stride, Jimmy Garoppolo welcomes the opportunities that open when he sees a blitz coming.
On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans blitzed on more than half of Garoppolo’s dropbacks. He completed 16 of 23 passes while the Titans brought more than four pass-rushers for 214 yards and a 98.8 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Every time you blitz, it leaves a hole somewhere,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “When you don’t blitz, sometimes you’ve got to wait on those holes to get open longer.”
And that is the challenge that awaits the 49ers on Sunday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars – owners of the No. 1 defense in the NFL – come to Levi’s Stadium to continue their quest for the AFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The 49ers and Jaguars ride into Sunday's game on three-game win streaks.
The Jaguars lead the NFL with 51 sacks. (The Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers’ opponent to close out the season, are second with 47 sacks.) The impressive part is that few teams blitz fewer times than Jacksonville under second-year defensive coordinator Todd Wash.
“It shows that you can get to the quarterback with four and that allows you to play much more sound, aggressive coverage,” Shanahan said of the Jaguars.
The Jaguars’ defense is loaded. Their top-ranked pass defense features two of the best cornerbacks in the game, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate with 14.5 sacks.
“I think every week is a different challenge in the NFL,” Garoppolo said. “Every team is a good team, no matter what their record is. These guys have a very talented defense. It’s just a different type of scheme. A lot of teams are adapting the scheme that these guys run and it’s becoming pretty popular in the NFL.”
The Jaguars’ defense is an off-shoot of the Seattle defense. It’s similar to the system Robert Saleh has implemented in his first season with the 49ers after spending the three previous years as linebackers coach with the Jaguars.
But what distinguishes Jacksonville’s defense is the number of standout players at every level of the defense.
“It’s not that unique,” Garoppolo said. “A lot of teams are adapting to this and so you see it all over the league now. Seattle started it and now teams are adapting it. I think the players that they have make it unique. They have very talented players on every level of the defense. It’s going to be a good challenge for us on Sunday.”
Said Shanahan, “I do believe that they have as much qualities as anyone that it takes to win a Super Bowl -- a top defense, a very good running game, a good offense, good special teams. When you see a team like that on tape that you believe has that ability, it’s a good thing, it’s a good challenge for your team to go against them and see where you’re at.”