The New England Patriots can generally feel good about their preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, and one reason for that is the performance of rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham. While he went primarily against the Detroit Lions’ second and third string defenders, he did what you would expect a quarterback to do in this situation: be in command and put pressure on the defense on every single drive.
Stidham did just that, and his final numbers reflect his solid performance in his first ever NFL game: the fourth-round draft pick completed 14 of his 24 pass attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown. Was he perfect? No, in part because his receivers did not necessarily help him out with some drops. There was still a lot to like about Stidham during his 58 snaps on Thursday, though, and the upside he displayed during them.
Bill Belichick apparently feels the same way: “I think there were several plays that dawned all of the categories really,” the Patriots’ head coach said about Stidham’s performance. “Quick throws where the read was clear and the receiver was open and then maybe a secondary read, and then there were a couple of times where he scrambled and extended the play. He ran a couple times and completed a pass to — I think it might have been the tight end, [Andrew] Beck or [Ryan] Izzo — but anyway, there was a little bit of everything there.”
There was indeed, so let’s take a closer look at some plays to break down the rookie’s performance.
Q2: 1-22-DET 22 (5:49) J.Stidham pass short left to M.LaCosse to DET 9 for 13 yards (A.Adams).
Stidham’s first pass of the night was a perfect example of his game: he did not do anything super fancy, but played it safe and took what the defense gave him based on how the play unfolded. It all started with a fake hand-off to running back Nick Brossette out of an 11-personnel group with the quarterback lining up under center. Afterwards, he identified tight end Matt LaCosse on a crossing route as his target.
The result is a 13-yard completion to put the team in a more favorable situation coming on a 1st and goal from the 22-yard line:
Stidham’s throw may have been a rather easy one, but he executed it well: he places the football in front of his target, so that LaCosse can continue running without losing much speed — which then allows him to gain an additional five yards after making the catch. It’s simple pitch-and-catch, but it is something to build on: accuracy and quick processing skills are on display as two of the most important traits for a quarterback.
Q2: 1-10-DET 46 (1:30) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Stidham pass deep middle to J.Meyers to DET 20 for 26 yards (A.Oruwariye).
When it comes to ball placement, Stidham looked very good at times against the Lions. While some of his best throws of the day were either dropped or interfered with, he still completed some beauties — and none of them may have been better than his 26-yarder to fellow rookie Jakobi Meyers: Stidham again places the ball in the right spots to put his target in the best possible position to make a play on it.
Having plenty of time to scan the field, the rookie does just that and finds Meyers open on an in-breaking route against the Lions’ zone defense:
Stidham steps into the throw well and puts it over the head of the defensive backs in coverage. While the catch is no less impressive, it would not be possible if the quarterback did a) not read the defense properly to decide on attacking the deep middle of the field against Detroit’s zone, and b) target an area where only Meyers could come away with the football. This intelligence and risk-averse approach made the play and others on Stidham’s résumé from the preseason opener possible.
Of course, the role of the offensive line cannot be understated either: it helped the rookie tremendously, as it gave him time to scan the field and find his targets on numerous occasions. But even when he was under pressure, the rookie generally fared quite well as the following play shows:
Q3: 1-10-DET 42 (6:06) (Shotgun) J.Stidham pass deep right to B.Berrios to DET 25 for 17 yards (A.Adams) [J.Atkins]. P18
Stidham once again lines up in the shotgun on this play from the third quarter, with the Patriots being in a 2x2 formation with a running back next to him. The play originally unfolds as planned, but the quarterback quickly has to speed up his clock with a defender freely attacking him through the right-side B-gap: the Lions run a stunt up front, but the communication between center Tyler Gauthier and guard James Ferentz is not where it needs to be.
Nevertheless, Stidham shows tremendous poise in the pocket:
Despite Detroit’s John Atkins pressuring him up the middle, the Patriots’ third-string quarterback stands in the pocket until the very last second before letting go of the football. The ability to do that cannot be understated: a lot of first-year quarterbacks are not able to keep their cool and continue scanning the field with pressure bearing down on them. While one play is the smallest of sample sizes, Stidham performed well in this situation.
In general, the 23-year-old looked okay under pressure. He was disrupted on 7 of his passing attempts and completed 3 of them (2 of the incompletions were throw-away passes) for a total of 44 yards. Not exactly eye-popping numbers, but solid for a player appearing in his first ever game at the pro level. Stidham successfully adapted to the speed of the NFL game, and it made numerous of his throws — like the last one here — possible.
All in all, Stidham did his job well against Detroit as Belichick pointed out during a conference call the day after the game: “The most important thing for the quarterback is not to turn the ball over, make good decisions, and throw accurately, so he did all of those at times,” said the future Hall of Fame coach about the young passer.
Stidham himself also felt good about his performance, and how it was the next step in his development: “I think the more I’m just doing it, the more comfortable I feel, and that sort of thing — and Josh [McDaniels] has been extremely good in the meeting room. He’s a great teacher. I’m just trying to take as much in from him and Tom [Brady], and Brian [Hoyer], and Mick [Lombardi] as much as I can and just really trying to improve every single day.”
His improvement since joining the Patriots in late April was evident last week against Detroit. Now all that he needs to do is keep it up.