The New England Patriots don't want to rely on back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but if his showing against the New Orleans Saints is any indicator, Garoppolo will be more than ready to respond when the time comes.
Garoppolo's statline of 28/33 for 269 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception is a pretty good performance, even against a weak Saints secondary. When we look further into his individual throws, we come to realize a few more important details.
Garoppolo only had one really bad pass, but two others he might want back.
This is in stark contrast to last week's game against the Packers, where Garoppolo was fairly inaccurate on his deep balls to Josh Boyce.
Garoppolo's first documented incompletion can on a miscommunication with receiver Chris Harper, where Garoppolo expected Harper to be prepared for a back-shoulder throw, while Harper continued to run down the field. With the safety over the top, Garoppolo made the right decision and this is a case of an inexperienced receiver. His second incompletion came soon after on a batted pass.
Garoppolo threw a third incompletion on a deep pass to Harper, where the receiver was engaged with a defender and couldn't get to the spot. Upon further review, it looks like Harper doesn't have the speed to make that reception, but the pass was thrown where only Harper could make a play.
The first really bad throw of the day for Garoppolo came on his interception intended for Brandon Gibson. Everyone could tell it was a bad throw as soon as he torqued his upper body to make the pass.
This is a fundamentally bad throw. He knows it. He'll fix it. But it shows how bad form can lead to a bad throw and a bad result.
Garoppolo's final incompletion was an overthrow of tight end Jimmay Mundine up the middle of the field by the goal line. Mundine doesn't run a crisp route and telegraphs where he is running to the defender, who meets the tight end at the reception point. Garoppolo's pass is less than a foot too high for Mundine to touch.
He rarely needed to go beyond his first read...
Without sitting in a room with Garoppolo, we won't be able to know for certain how he dissected the defense, but of his 33 passes, 25 of them were probably to his very first read. Garoppolo had a couple more passes where he immediately went to his checkdown receiver after looking off his first target.
This signifies that the coaching staff both understand Garoppolo's limitation (reading a defense) and have an approach on mitigating that weakness.
...and his accuracy was tremendous.
Of course, Garoppolo rarely needed more than his first read as he was deadly accurate with his passes. He was hitting his hodge-podge group of receivers right in their hands on almost every target. While it's possible that none of Brandon Gibson, Chris Harper, Jonathan Krause, and Jimmay Mundine make the roste, Garoppolo made it easy for these players to perform well in the spotlight.
He made many NFL caliber throws, in both distance and placement.
Some might scoff at Garoppolo's accuracy by noting that the majority of Garoppolo's passes were of the short variety and he was 0/2 with an interception on passes 25+ yards down the field. This is true. Garoppolo was 20/20 on passes shorter than 8 yards down the field.
But he was also 9/11 with a touchdown on passes between 9-24 yards down the field. Those are NFL throws. Garoppolo used the sidelines, he used passes underneath, he attacked zones, and he attacked man coverage. There was no need to for a 25+ yard toss when the Saints were susceptible to papercuts underneath.
That sounds familiar.
He was at his best in the two-minute drill.
Garoppolo had possession of the football before the end of the half, down 21-0, and on the final drive of the game, down 24-23. When we look to see when Garoppolo was asked to look beyond his first read, he was at his best command during the two-minute drills, where he calmly went through his progressions and attacked down the field. He seemed at his best when the pressure was on.
The young quarterback led a touchdown drive before the half and set up the game-winning field goal at the end of the game. In fact, Garoppolo led scoring drives on five of his six final drives, the interception the lone exception.
The Patriots will likely use Garoppolo for the majority of the preseason week 4 game against the Giants, and will likely give him a quarter or two against the Panthers this upcoming week. He has shown considerable improvement between the first and second week of the preseason, and he'll have plenty of time to show even more over the next couple of weeks.