How Jimmy Garoppolo matches up with Patriots' first four opponents
Tom Brady’s four-game suspension over the “Deflategate” fiasco has just been upheld, meaning that—barring any unforeseen QB moves—Jimmy Garoppolo will be starting the first four games of the season for New England.
That means the 2014 second-round draft pick will need to guide the Patriots to a half-decent start to the season, facing the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans, and Bills.
In those four matchups, he’ll see one of the best defensive players in the NFL, a couple of decent NFL defenses, and a Rex Ryan defensive scheme in the space of a month—a rough ride for a young QB.
So, what have we seen from Garoppolo so far? Pretty much nothing, unfortunately.
The former Eastern Illinois quarterback played 13 snaps in 2015. His professional career is 84 snaps old in the regular season, and he has only really seen the field for more than a drive or two in one game—mop-up duty in a meaningless Week 17 encounter with the Bills to end the 2014 regular season. In that game, he completed 10-of-14 attempts for 90 yards, earning a -2.6 PFF grade thanks to some risky throws (0.0 is considered average).
Garoppolo has seen more action in the preseason, grading positively over his 151 preseason snaps in 2014, but negatively in 2015. He was accurate with the football overall, completing 76.3 percent of his attempts, and even completing 69.2 percent of his passes under pressure, but his 61 completions went for just 554 yards, and he had a 6.6 yards per attempt figure, even when kept clean in the pocket. He also threw as many interceptions (one) as touchdowns from clean pockets, which is far from a good sign.
Tom Brady excels in short accuracy within the Patriots’ offense, completing 76.9 percent of his passes under 10 yards in the air this past season, but the other thing he is perhaps peerless at is understanding where to go with the football before the ball is snapped and manufacturing himself “easier” completions.
In order to have success within this offense, Garoppolo needs to have the accuracy, but also that ability to understand where he is going with the ball the way Brady can—if not to the same level, then at least enough to be a viable option. He at least appears to have accuracy, completing 64.5 percent of his passes in the regular season for his career and 67.3 percent over his two preseason stints, but so far we have seen little to suggest he understands the offense well enough to make it work for him, even as a poor imitation of Brady.
Without being able to do that, those four games could be a rough stretch for New England, and their best bet might be trying to implement a run-heavy game-plan for the first month of the season in a league that is becoming ever more pass-oriented and lightweight.