Update 3/22/2020: Film room: What Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s rookie season tells us about his long-term outlook
With Tom Brady now officially a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, let’s go back to this film breakdown from two weeks ago to find out more about his potential successor, second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Original story 3/9/2020: Film room: What Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s rookie season tells us about his long-term outlook
Jarrett Stidham’s first season in the NFL was a rather uneventful one. Serving as the New England Patriots’ number two at the quarterback position behind future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, the fourth-round rookie was on the field for just 15 snaps between his team’s 17 combined regular season and playoff games. Stidham attempted just four pass attempts along the way, of which he completed two for 14 yards and an interception.
To evaluate his performance on a classic good-bad scale would not be fair to Stidham, though, considering the limited playing time he received and his role with the team.
That being said, his first year in the NFL still tells us something about his development and potential long-term outlook — something that might become relevant sooner rather than later and with Brady no lock to return to New England given his status as an unrestricted free agent. Could the team decide to roll with Stidham, either through choice or if forced to do so? That seems like the best Plan B available, for more than just financial reasons.
After all, Stidham’s body of work in 2019 was encouraging. Let’s take a look at the film.
Q4: 3-12-TEN 23 (4:18) (Shotgun) J.Stidham pass deep left to D.Patterson for 23 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Stidham brought back memories of former Patriots backup and current San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during his first training camp in New England: he looked comfortable making the transition from the college level to the pros, and appeared to develop quickly while competing with veteran Brian Hoyer for the number two spot behind Brady. While he was far from perfect, Stidham did have his moments.
His second preseason game against the Tennessee Titans featured one of them and showed a player capable of performing even when in difficult spots. In the fourth quarter of what was a 17-15 game in the opponents’ favor at that point, Stidham (#4) and the Patriots’ backup offense found themselves in a 3rd-and-12 situation. The young quarterback and second-year wide receiver Damoun Patterson (#17) converted by doing this:
The back-shoulder throw is one of the toughest to defend, but also equally difficult to get right. Stidham, however, delivered a perfect pass to Patterson’s outside shoulder and away from the defensive back in coverage for the 23-yard touchdown. His ball-placement and touch on the throw were superb, with the rookie showing plenty of trust in his perimeter receiver to make a play on the ball. The protection played its part — Stidham had plenty of time to let the routes develop — but the passer did what he was supposed to do.
Throughout the summer, Stidham showed an ability to make all the throws in the book and this one against the Titans was no exception. Obviously, it did not happen against an NFL-caliber defense but being able to successfully deliver a difficult third-and-long pass in the fourth quarter of a game is impressive even in preseason.
Q2: 2-10-NE 31 (1:04) (Shotgun) J.Stidham pass deep left to J.Meyers to 50 for 19 yards (C.Elder).
One week after a generally solid performance against the Titans — Stidham completed 14 of 19 pass attempts for 193 yards and the touchdown to Patterson — the Auburn product had another good outing, even though some ups and downs were on display during the contest against the Carolina Panthers. Consistency and stringing together positive plays was an issue for the rookie throughout his first summer in the NFL, and the third preseason game was no exception.
The ups included a play in the second quarter and with the Patriots trying to drive for a score in a two-minute drill. Once again, Stidham’s accuracy looked good on a 19-yard completion to fellow rookie Jakobi Meyers (#16):
New England approached the 2nd-and-10 situation in an 11-personnel set with Meyers lining up in the right-side slot and running an in-crossing route against Carolina’s man-to-man coverage. Meyers was able to gain inside position on Panthers cornerback Javien Elliott (#38), and Stidham placed the ball where the defender was unable to make a play on it: he targeted Meyers high and the undrafted free agent came away with the reception.
Stidham again had considerable time in the pocket on the play, and was able to make a good decision and throw after surveying the field. As can be seen by his head movements, his first read appears to be weak-side receiver Phillip Dorsett (#13) but the young quarterback moved off the veteran in favor of Meyers. While he does rush through his motion a bit — ideally, he would keep his right leg on the ground to get a more stable platform — he is still able to deliver a dart for a new set of downs.
Q3: 1-10-CAR 10 (1:57) (Shotgun) J.Stidham sacked at CAR 19 for -9 yards (A.Williams).
As noted above, however, Stidham was not perfect against Carolina. In the third quarter and with New England finding itself in a goal-to-go situation at the opponents’ 10-yard line, the quarterback allowed himself to be sacked on first down for a loss of nine yards — an outcome that could have easily been prevented had Stidham read the defensive blitz correctly and opted not to stare down his receivers in the deeper parts of the field:
Upon receiving the snap, the quarterback had his eyes to the left where Gunner Olszewski (#9) and Meyers were aligning in a slot formation. He eventually did turn his head around, but it was too late: Carolina linebacker Antwione Williams (#49) was able to get through the right-side A-gap unobstructed and came crashing down on Stidham. The rookie failed to get the football off in time and had to hit the turf to set up a 2nd-and-19.
The moment did present a teaching opportunity for Stidham, though. Had he read the blitz correctly and identified an extra rusher as an option, he might have decided to throw the ball to his hot read: running back Nick Brossette (#42) was open in the right-side flat for a completion that may have netted the Patriots a few yards. The ones lost by Stidham, meanwhile, turned out to be significant: together with another sack of eight yards — one that was not his fault — he set up kicker Stephen Gostkowski with a 43-yard field goal attempt that was eventually missed wide to the left.
Q1: 3-2-NYG 40 (12:42) (Shotgun) J.Stidham pass short middle to J.Edelman to NYG 20 for 20 yards (J.Love).
In the preseason finale against the New York Giants, Stidham played all 65 of the Patriots’ offensive snaps and again had some strong play with a few bad decisions and inaccurate throws mixed in. His bigger issues that day were an inability to lead receivers on intermediate routes over the middle, which in turn hurt their ability to generate additional yards after catching the football, and a tendency to hold the football too long.
The latter played a role in his three sacks, with the former was on display on a completion to Julian Edelman (#11) in the first quarter of the game:
The play eventually was a success from New England’s perspective, as the team converted a 3rd-and-2 and also gained 20 yards to reach the Giants’ red zone. However, the Patriots could have had even better field position had Stidham led the receiver a bit more: the pass forced Edelman to slow down a bit and adjust for the reception, which allowed Giants cornerback Julian Love (#37) to easily catch up and take him down almost immediately after the reception.
Stidham’s form was better as it was on the pass to Meyers broken down above, but he still needs to get more consistent with his ball-placement and when it comes to giving receivers a chance to make something with the football in their hands.
Q4: 1-10-NE 45 (8:41) NE 4-Stidham now at QB. (Shotgun) J.Stidham pass short right to P.Dorsett to NYJ 44 for 11 yards (N.Hairston).
Stidham’s regular season debut came in Week 3 against the New York Jets and lasted a grand total of four snaps — all of which drop-back passing situations. Despite New England being up 30-7 at this point in the game, the team apparently wanted the youngster to throw the football quite a bit. The first of those throws came on a 1st-and-10 at the Patriots’ 45-yard line, with the offense aligning in a 10-personnel shotgun formation.
Stidham, who was joined in the backfield by running back Brandon Bolden (#38), took what the defense gave him on the play and hit Dorsett for a catch-and-run of 11 yards:
New York approached the down in a Cover 1 look with the cornerbacks playing off-man coverage across the board, and Stidham took advantage. Dorsett ran a short sit-down route from his spot on the right-side perimeter, and the quarterback did not hesitate to deliver the football. His ball-placement was a bit high — Dorsett had to jump to reach the football — but the pass in combination with the Jets’ coverage still allowed him to generate yards after the reception and to gain a new set of downs.
The play itself may not have been a “sexy” one, but it was a positive first NFL throw for Stidham: he identified what the defense offered and took advantage.
Q4: 3-14-NYJ 48 (6:34) (Shotgun) J.Stidham pass short right intended for B.Bolden INTERCEPTED by J.Adams at NYJ 39. J.Adams for 61 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Stidham was sacked on his next play, although the protection was more to blame for that than the young quarterback. He followed it up with a short pass to running back Rex Burkhead to set up a 3rd-and-14 — his fourth and final snap of the day: New England aligned in a double-back set with Burkhead (#34) and Bolden flanking Stidham in the backfield, and the receivers split out in a 2x1 look against the Jets’ off-man coverage.
This defensive alignment gave the Patriots room to operate in the underneath area of the field, and Stidham opted to go there by targeting Bolden out of the backfield. However, the play did not work as desired:
Targeting Bolden was a sound decision, even though one that probably would not have helped the Patriots convert the third down (it might have given New England a shot at a manageable fourth down). The play was a safe one, though, if the pass was accurately delivered. Unfortunately for Stidham and his team, it was not: as was the case on Dorsett’s catch and run earlier in the drive, Stidham threw the football high and forced his intended target to make a leaping reception.
Unlike Dorsett, however, Bolden was unable to do that. Instead, the football glanced off the running back’s hands and landed in the waiting arms of Jets safety Jamal Adams (#33), who returned the interception 61 yards for a touchdown. You can mark it down as big-game jitters, but Stidham had some accuracy issues in his first ever regular season contest — just like he had from time to time during preseason as well.
But while his 2019 stat-line therefore does not look good, Stidham’s rookie campaign was not a bad one by any means.
The fourth-round pick had some solid plays in preseason and gave the Patriots confidence to expose veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer to the open market after his release (Hoyer ended up signing with the Indianapolis Colts shortly after his release). Furthermore, he received some valuable lessons and coaching points through his on-field performance throughout his first year in New England’s notoriously challenging offensive system.
So what does his rookie campaign tell us about Stidham’s long-term outlook?
The foundation he built in 2019 appears to be a solid one without even judging his work behind the scenes. The 23-year-old should therefore be in a position to make a significant jump between years one and two in the system and with a full offseason under his belt. Yes, Stidham needs to get more consistent when it comes to his accuracy and decision-making, but he did show that he can succeed in both areas.
His private quarterbacks coach, ex-NFL passer Jordan Palmer, summed Stidham’s development up well during a recent interview with The Athletic: “Just hearing the maturity and his understanding of offense and defense in just literally a 12-month period, seeing that difference, I couldn’t help but smile and see that growth. And to know that’s just year one, it’s just the beginning for him. [...] He can throw it as good as anybody in the NFL. I think anyone who has seen him would agree with that.”
Does that praise make Stidham a worthy successor for Tom Brady, in case the future Hall of Famer left the Patriots via free agency this year or retirement a bit further down the line? That remains to be seen, but it looks as if the Patriots have found themselves a high-upside developmental passer — basically what they had with Garoppolo between 2014 and 2017. Garoppolo did not turn out to be Brady’s heir, Stidham might just get a shot at the role.