When the Cleveland Browns take on the San Francisco 49ers, they will face one of the more unique quarterbacks in the NFL in Jimmy Garoppolo. Since being traded to the 49ers, Garoppolo has played in 12 regular season games spread over three seasons, missing most of last year with a torn ACL.
Garoppolo stands out because he's a remarkably accurate quarterback, near the top of the league in completion percentage and yards per attempt, but he also throws interceptions at a high rate. Despite completing 67.9 percent of his passes in the second half of 2017 and the first three games of 2019, his interception rate has gotten worse each season, going from 2.8 percent in 2017 to 3.4 percent in the three games he played in 2018 to now 4.8 percent so far in 2019.
No other quarterback over the past three seasons quite has those kind of numbers. For all of his accuracy, which is terrific, he has just 17 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Matt Ryan is currently experiencing a stretch like that with eight touchdowns in six interceptions while completing 70.5 percent of his passes, but Ryan also threw 35 touchdowns to just seven interceptions all of last season. This is more of an aberration and he's been established in the NFL for a decade.
Marcus Mariota and Ryan Fitzpatrick have had some runs like this, but neither complete as many passes as Garoppolo and right now, Mariota has seven touchdowns to zero interceptions so far this year.
So why does this matter? Well, it suggests that since Garoppolo got out of New England and teams have been able to get a sense of his tendencies, he is a terrific passer in terms of what he's capable of doing with the football and getting it to his weapons, which is why he was such a hot commodity, but he gets fooled by what defenses are throwing at him, enabling them to intercept passes, because he's going to throw it, so if they are in position, they can make plays on the ball.
It suggests that Sunday, Garoppolo is going to get his, moving the ball up and down the field at times, but at some point, the Browns defense is going to get an opportunity to get an interception or few. Obviously, the mistakes haven't been enough to cost the 49ers a game yet, but they haven't played anyone particularly good either and their defense causes turnovers at a high rate as well.
Pressure could certainly tilt that more in the Browns favor, but Garoppolo doesn't take a ton of sacks. The presence of Myles Garrett over an undrafted rookie tackle might have him get the ball out quicker, but he's only taken two sacks this season.
In terms of a longer view, if Garoppolo can improve in terms of reading defenses and understanding what teams are doing to confuse him, he can parlay that arm talent into some incredibly efficient football and the knee injury really hurt his ability to see more of that through live game reps. Still, it's concerning that Garoppolo does give the ball up so often now in his sixth year in the NFL. He's certainly still a talented quarterback, but it's the difference between being a top five to ten quarterback as opposed to hanging around the middle of the pack.
Obviously, the Patriots didn't maximize their return on the trade because of the circumstances that led to the timing of the trade, but it seems like he was somewhat protected with the New England Patriots and teams didn't get enough time to expose what could be a fatal flaw.
The Browns likely go into this game expecting to get at least one interception as Steve Wilks has done a great job of seeing what other teams have had success with against opponents and adapted it to his defense beautifully. The winner of the turnover battle likely goes on to win the game.