The landscape of the NFL can change on the drop of a dime. At the beginning of the year, the week 16 matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars looked as though it might have serious implications as to which team would earn the first overall pick. Five weeks ago, this same matchup looked like the surging Jaguars would steamroll the one-win 49ers. Now, it has all the makings of an incredibly interesting and close game. The Jaguars will be fighting for a playoff bye. The 49ers will be trying to remain undefeated since Jimmy Garoppolo took the helm as the starter. If the 49ers are to continue their win streak, they must follow three keys to victory.
Week 16 San Francisco 49ers Keys to Victory
After a stellar campaign as the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, Kyle Shanahan was one of the most sought-after head coaching candidates. His scheme and play-calling led many to call him an offensive genius. Without as many chess pieces to strategize with, his time in San Francisco hasn’t led to the same offensive explosion. However, the 49ers are the 14th ranked team in terms of total offense, and it has a lot to do with Shanahan’s scheme.
This scheme will be put to the test against an elite Jaguars defense, currently ranked as the number one defense in terms of DVOA. Frankly, the Jaguars are loaded on defense. Up front, Calais Campbell is leading the league in sacks and appears on his way to taking home Defensive Player of the Year honors. The Jaguars also boast the best cornerback tandem in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. These corners are the second and sixth highest graded cornerbacks on the year, respectively.
With the below average offensive line and depleted wide receiver corps, the 49ers only hope to dismantle this defense is to trust their offensive genius. An example of this wizardry came in what was a 54-yard reception by Kendrick Bourne. The 49ers lined up in the I-formation, with Logan Paulson in at tight end. Paulson motioned out wide, and the Titans shifted their defense accordingly, revealing what looks to be a cover-three zone defense.
The ball is snapped, and Garoppolo faked the hand off on the play action pass. The linebacker responsible for the middle of the field took a step up to stop the run. This left Bourne wide open down the middle for a huge gain. Essentially, Shanahan’s work, both pre-snap and post, allowed for a relatively easy and big chunk of yardage. If the 49ers are to beat the Jaguars, Shanahan must be up to his offensive sorcerer’s ways.
At the beginning of the year, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone was asked how many times, ideally, he would like to throw the ball in any given game. His answer says it all. He responded with zero. The Jaguars have made their run this year off the strength of their defense. However, they will need to score points to win the game, and that will require Blake Bortles to touch the ball.
In eight of the Jaguars games so far this season, Bortles has thrown for under 250 yards. In those eight games, the Jaguars have four wins to go with four losses. Upon further inspection, three of those wins had a running back rush for over 100 yards. The one exception was a drubbing of the Baltimore Ravens in London, the second home of the Jaguars.
The formula is there. Keep Bortles under 250 yards passing, and do not allow a 100-yard rusher. Robert Saleh should stack the box, and sell out to stop Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory, daring Bortles to beat them with his arm. Bortles has been impressive as of late, playing excellent against the Texans. However, he has a track record of subpar play throughout his tenure in the NFL. The 49ers will hope to regress him to the mean.
Have a Merry Christmas
Most people will be opening their Christmas presents some time after the 49ers game. The 49ers, however, opened their present early. Roughly two months early. On October 30th, Santa came and delivered the 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo in a rare mid-season trade. Since then, he has shown all the makings something truly special.
Garoppolo does not have a lot of weapons to work with, but he is elevating those around him. Since entering the starting lineup, Marquise Goodwin has been playing at an extremely high level. In the past three games, he has 319 yards on 24 receptions. He is on pace for his first career 1,000 yard season, almost doubling his career total. What is most impressive about Goodwin is his incredible rapport with Garoppolo. This chemistry was not there with the other 49er quarterbacks.
Another player who has benefited from the Garoppolo present is Garrett Celek. Celek has become a talismanic player for the 49ers. The 49ers locker room has adopted the phrase “Celek Time” for when Celek makes a big play. Sine Garoppolo became the starter, there has been a lot of Celek time. In the last two games, he has hauled in passes of 41 and 61 yards along with two touchdowns. If Garoppolo and Celek can connect for some more Celek Time on Sunday, the 49ers will celebrate opening another present with a victory against the Jaguars.