Remember last year, when it was a virtual certainty that Tom Brady’s suspension would stand and Jimmy Garoppolo would have to take the field for the first four games of the season?
Well, that’s where we’re at now, too, except instead of Brady’s suspension being a virtual certainty, it’s an absolute certainty. It’s happening now, and about the only positive for the Patriots is that they have the rest of the summer to get Jimmy studied up and practiced up for Week 1…and 2, and 3, and 4.
But you already knew all that. What nobody really knows is what to expect when Garoppolo runs on to the field to command one of 2015’s most lethal offenses against some pretty stout competition (stop laughing, the Dolphins and Bills are still not to be taken lightly).
It’s not all bad, though! An NFL scouting report from NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, published last summer, analyzed Jimmy G’s All-22 game tape from his preseason games and his mop-up duty games in his rookie season. Brooks also compares the tape to his notes on Garoppolo from the 2014 draft and came up with what he calls "a detailed guide on the quarterback’s game".
If by "detailed guide", Bucky actually means "2,000 words that Patriots fans will definitely want to devour about the starting quarterback for the 2016 season", then he’s nailed it. Let’s check it out, starting with Bucky Brooks’ initial impressions of Jimmy G out of college.
"Garoppolo shined at Eastern Illinois as a quick-rhythm passer with exceptional accuracy, ball placement and timing. In addition, he displayed outstanding arm talent and a high football IQ while directing the Panthers' warp-speed attack against FCS competition. He quickly got the ball out of his hands on an assortment of catch-and-throw plays designed to distribute the ball to his playmakers at short and intermediate ranges. Although the dink-and-dunk nature of Eastern Illinois' offense led to questions about Garoppolo's arm strength and range, the small-school standout eliminated these concerns with a pair of strong performances at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl."
So far, so good. How about the 2015 preseason, when Jimmy got thrown into the frying pan against NFL defenses?
"Watching Garoppolo play throughout the preseason last year, I believed his skills translated well to the pro game, as evidenced by his 99.0 passer rating and 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Garoppolo displayed outstanding poise, confidence and leadership skills while moving thePatriots' offense against the second- and third-team defenses in exhibition games. He looked razor-sharp delivering passes to playmakers working free against tight coverage on the perimeter; his accuracy and ball placement was impressive for a young player acclimating to the pro game."
But that’s preseason, which, for as much as we’re thrilled to see it finally get here every year, is still basically a battle to fill out the bottom spots on a roster. Jimmy G played a bit in the 2014 season. How’d that go?
"Garoppolo only saw legit action in three games (at Kansas City in Week 4, vs. Chicago in Week 8 and vs. Buffalo in Week 17), but continued to impress. The rookie repeatedly delivered the ball on time on quick-rhythm throws to the perimeter. He not only routinely put the ball right in the receiver's strike zone, but also flashed the ability to throw guys open with anticipation tosses through traffic. Given the importance of accuracy and decision-making when it comes to winning quarterback play, Garoppolo's pinpoint placement and sound judgment should serve him well as the director of the Patriots' offense during Brady's suspension. Granted, the sample size is small, but Garoppolo certainly looks like he has the tools to be an effective starter in the short term."
It wasn’t all great, though – Brooks noted that Garoppolo’s hesitation led to some pretty bad sacks.
"I would point out that he took five sacks in mop-up duty, including three in the second half against Buffalo. He failed to get the ball out of his hands quickly against pressure, leading to negative plays in the passing game."
Ironically, that was also a big criticism of Tom Brady in his early years – in the NFL Network documentary series "America’s Game" about the 2001 Pats, Bill Belichick tells Brady that "everything needs to be faster" – the reads, the throws, the calls, all of it.
Tactically, there are some specific offensive plays that Bucky thinks New England can use to maximize Jimmy’s skills and college experience:
-Wide receiver screens
-Read option runs
What’s really interesting about those five ideas is that the first three – screens, quick slants, and play-action – are textbook New England, especially the quick slant. But the second two, bootleg passes and read-option runs, are both concepts New England could put in to confuse teams that are banking on Jimmy playing Brady-style and mostly staying put in the pocket.
And you have to think, with the Patriots taking a flyer on Tim Tebow a few years ago and, more recently, scouting Johnny Manziel pretty heavily before the draft, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have at least cooked up some ideas that a quicker quarterback could execute.
Brooks wraps up his scouting report – which you really do need to read in its entirety – with what he expects defenses to do to attack Jimmy.
Yup, you guessed it, blitz, blitz, and more blitz.
"From a coverage standpoint, opponents likely will blanket the Patriots' receivers with various man-to-man tactics complemented by blitz pressure. The man coverage will position defenders closer on quick throws, with the blitz producing negative plays if Garoppolo is uncertain about his "hot reads" or sight adjustments against pressure. These tactics were effective against the youngster in Year 1, particularly in the Bills game."
This gets really scary when you think about the Patriots’ Swiss-cheese offensive line play last year. Half of the reason the Patriots offense keeps cranking out first downs is Brady slicing and dicing defensive coverages he sees before the ball is even snapped and calling whatever protection and route adjustments he needs to. If Jimmy’s hesitating because of pressure and can’t keep up with what the defense is doing to bamboozle him, those extra couple seconds in the pocket could be bad news.
Guess who brought blitz pressure on 49.8% of passing plays last year?
(The league average is 29.9%, by the way.)
The Arizona Cardinals.
Week 1 is going to be all kinds of fun.