If Tom Brady does miss time at the beginning of the season (pending his appeal), 2nd-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will be leading the defending champions out of the gate. Filling in for Tom Brady won’t be an easy task. Expectations will be high around New England as well as in that locker room. So how will Garoppolo fare in the Patriots’ offense?
First and foremost, Jimmy Garoppolo is a good fit for New England’s passing game regardless of who he’s replacing. He only threw 27 passes in 2014, but it was enough to show off his short and compact delivery. This enables him to get rid of the ball quickly, as you can see on this 14-yard pass below. Here, Garoppolo had just started his motion and had a pass rusher closing in on him. As you can also see, his intended receiver still had his back turned to Garoppolo.
That’s pretty good anticipation. From the end zone angle, you can get a better idea of how little time it took Garoppolo to deliver this ball as a pass rusher was bearing down on him.
Garoppolo has good short-to-intermediate-area accuracy, coupled with the ability to make quick decisions. Look at the small window he had to complete this slant pass against the Chiefs in Week 4.
A lot of quarterbacks wouldn’t even attempt this pass, but Garoppolo was aware of the defenders in the area and put the ball just a bit behind his receiver to slow him down and keep him from running into a big hit.
The result here was a touchdown.
Garoppolo should be able to step in and have success running the Patriots offense for a couple of reasons. First, the Patriots’ passing game is all about short and quick passes, and Garoppolo fits that style of play. Josh McDaniels did a tremendous job last season of manufacturing wide-open receivers at the short to intermediate levels using motion, bunches, stacks, and mesh-concept route combinations. All of these worked to confuse defensive assignments and prevent press coverage, which made Brady’s job much easier. Those concepts will likely continue to be prevalent with Garoppolo in the lineup.
McDaniels also did a great job of defining the coverage for Brady last season using unconventional alignments. He’d often put backs and tight ends on the outside and receivers inside. Most of the time, this tells the quarterback what the coverage is based on how the defense lines up in response. This was a huge help for Brady and will be even more important given Garoppolo’s inexperience.
Also don’t forget that Garoppolo will have the best tight end in the league to throw to in Rob Gronkowski as well as one of the toughest slot receivers in the NFL to cover in Julian Edelman.
One of the knocks on Garoppolo is his downfield accuracy. While he can definitely improve in this area, here is something to consider. Tom Brady has not been a great downfield passer of late. Over the last 5 seasons, he’s become marginalized as a passer the further he’s thrown the ball downfield. Since 2010, on passes thrown between 1 and 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, he ranks 7th in the NFL in completion percentage. On passes thrown between 11-20 yards, he ranks 19th. From 21-30 he ranks 24th, and on throws between 31 and 40 yards from the line of scrimmage he has the 29th best completion percentage in the league. So while Garoppolo may be replacing a legend, at very least he isn’t replacing someone who has a rare physical ability to make certain difficult throws with ease that no other quarterbacks can even attempt (think Aaron Rodgers). The Patriots don’t rely on this type of aerial attack, and this means that they won’t have to alter their passing game concepts too much with Garoppolo as the starter.
Garoppolo also has athleticism and evasiveness that both he and the Patriots will be able to use to their advantage. He isn’t exactly Russell Wilson when he runs the ball, but he does have the ability to make plays outside of the pocket, similar to another Eastern Illinois quarterback – Tony Romo. This is an attribute that Tom Brady lacks.
None of this is to say that the Patriots won’t miss Tom Brady. It would be crazy to even suggest that. The level of experience, intelligence, and intuition that he has on the football field is rare. One thing that makes him so great is his ability to manage all kinds of situations throughout a game. He knows when to take what the defense gives him and when to press the issue. He doesn’t panic or get jittery if the Patriots are unable to get anything going early. He’s relaxed when the Patriots are trailing late. He manages the situations and emotions of the game as well as anyone ever has. This is something that is guided largely by experience, and it’s the area where Garoppolo has the biggest shoes to fill.
In the little playing time he received last season, Garoppolo did have a moment where his inexperience hurt him. It came with just under 7 minutes left in New England’s Week 17 game against the Bills. The Patriots trailed 17-9 and had a 2nd-and-11 from the Bills’ 31-yard line. At the top of his drop, Garoppolo had already started his motion and wanted to deliver the ball to the flat as you can see below.
The problem here was that the Bills were playing cover-2, which wasn’t an uncommon coverage for them. Based on where the deep safety was on that side of the field, it was a pretty straightforward read for the quarterback. With the corner sitting to that side, the flat was dead.
Garoppolo was looking to get the ball to the flat almost immediately, which indicates that he either pre-determined this throw or failed to read a simple coverage. That’s inexperience right there. But Garoppolo still had time and room in the pocket. He had an open receiver down the middle seam for a big play. The two vertical routes were likely the initial read and design of the play seeing as they attacked the cover-2 safety to that side and put him in conflict.
As you can see, Garoppolo had a big play. However, he didn’t pull the trigger. Perhaps he was thrown off by his first read (the flat) not being there and didn’t feel comfortable throwing down the field late. Which is fine. However, he had time to get rid of the ball underneath.
He could have thrown the ball at his receiver’s feet and lived to play another down. Instead, once he felt pressure he spun backwards out of the pocket and into a world of trouble.
The result was a bad sack for a huge loss that pushed the Patriots out of field goal range.
This is the type of mistake you don’t see Brady make. Still, it isn’t the end of the world. The more Garoppolo plays and the more experience he gains, the less he’ll make mistakes like this.
Ultimately, we think the Patriots have a quarterback they can work with. Also keep in mind that they started 2-2 last year and went on to win the Super Bowl, so a slow start in 2015 wouldn’t necessarily derail them. While this year’s team will not be quite the same as the 2014 version, Bill Belichick is Bill Belichick for a reason. He takes players of all types and accentuates their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. There is no doubt that he’ll have the game called in a way that gives New England the best chance to win, whether that means throwing it 20 times with Garoppolo or 50 times. Don’t forget what Belichick was able to do in 2008 with Matt Cassel as the quarterback when Brady went down with a knee injury. The Patriots finished 11-5 without Brady. They also lost several other important players for long stretches that season, including safety Rodney Harrison for 10 games. So if Garoppolo does have to play, whether it’s 1 or 2 or 4 games, the Patriots should be fine.