MIAMI -- Kyle Shanahan hears the doubt. He knows plenty of folks don't fully believe in his quarterback.
He doesn't care what they think, because Shanahan has all the proof he needs to be confident in Jimmy Garoppolo.
Much was made of Garoppolo's paltry eight pass attempts in the NFC Championship Game, a conference title won essentially without throwing the ball with any significance. But that was one game, Shanahan said Tuesday, and not a true indicator of his offense's total potential. It was more of an example of how his unit can attack a defense that gives it specific looks. For these 49ers, those looks meant gaining huge chunks on the ground in a dominant performance -- not that it couldn't depend on its franchise quarterback.
"I think it's really funny that people say that," Shanahan remarked Tuesday. "Did anyone notice how good we were running the ball? We weren't just running it to punt and try to win 3-0. There were times, especially in that Green Bay game, we had a better chance at getting a 30-yard gain running it just from some of the looks we were getting and things like that. Jimmy should never apologize for us running the ball too well."
The 49ers are not a run-only team. Just look a week earlier, when they opened their Divisional Round contest against Minnesota by tossing it down the field. Garoppolo completed 5 of 6 passes on the team's opening drive, an eight-play march capped by a 3-yard touchdown completion to Kendrick Bourne. There's also more evidence in the regular season, such as Garoppolo's 349-yard, four-touchdown outing in a shootout win in New Orleans, or San Francisco's final-minute Week 11 victory on a 25-yard touchdown pass up the seam from Garoppolo to Jeff Wilson Jr.
This isn't an incapable quarterback, but an offense that is effective because of its versatility.
"There's a number of times throughout this year I think we had a lull defensively and running the ball halfway through the year where we had to open up games throwing to start it out," Shanahan said. "You look at the Minnesota game, our plan in that game was to run all game. We kind of fell into that against Green Bay, but if you look at that first drive vs. Minnesota, we came out throwing trying to loosen them up and just threaten that because we knew they would be harder to run against and I think Jimmy was 6 of 7, maybe, on the first drive and led us right down there, and we didn't have to do much."
The side-by-side quarterback comparison will be lopsided, at least statistically, due in large part to San Francisco's lack of postseason pass attempts. In fact, Garoppolo's lack of passes was historic, as he became the third quarterback to lead his team to the Super Bowl with two-plus starts and fewer than 30 total postseason pass attempts. As such, when the graphics displaying Garoppolo and Mahomes flash on the screen during pre-game shows Sunday, the difference will be significant. Mahomes has more passing yards (209) and passing touchdowns (five) in the second quarter of two playoff games than Garoppolo (208 yards, one touchdown) has in two complete games this postseason. Mahomes has seven more passing touchdowns (eight) than Garoppolo (one) in the 2019 playoffs, the largest postseason pass touchdown differential between opposing Super Bowl starting quarterbacks (entering the Super Bowl), per NFL Research.
That reality is a product of opposing defenses failing to force the 49ers to pass. If an offense gets a look pre-snap look against the run, it's going to take advantage of that look. Lining up five or six defenders in the box on most downs? Expect San Francisco to pound the rock.
Not all down-and-distance situations can call for the run, realistically. Sure, a draw on third-and-11 might work occasionally, but most teams are passing in that situation. A second-down sack could put the 49ers in such a situation, meaning they'll have to turn to Garoppolo to find a target for a first down.
That's a normal ask of an NFL quarterback. Shanahan is rightfully unafraid to ask Garoppolo to do so if such circumstances arise.
"I'd also say, one thing you can also look at a quarterback regardless of how it's going is, you can't run the ball if you don't do good on third down, and Jimmy has been as good as anyone to me on third down this year," Shanahan said. "When we've needed him to bring us back at the end of games, he's done it. I've never been a part of a game where a QB completes two third-and-16s on a final drive to beat the Rams like he did. What he did in that first Arizona game, I think it was a third-and-16 also to get us back in the last drive. The second Arizona game, throwing to get back in that game. I mean, people just got to watch the whole season, and they'll realize that that's not at all the case."
Shanahan is correct. The evidence is easy to find throughout the 2019 season. Should a team sell out against the run and dare Garoppolo to beat them, the result might not be pretty for the opposition.
"People can keep doubting him," tight end George Kittle said Tuesday. "I won't. I don't bet against really good players."
We'll see if the really good player under center will be needed to prove his worth en route to a victory Sunday.