When the NFL announced that Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension for his role in DeflateGate would be upheld, backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was thrust into the spotlight, as the man who will be charged with keeping the team afloat in Brady’s absence. It’s a lot to ask of a second-year player out of Eastern Illinois University – to fill the shoes of arguably the greatest quarterback to play in the NFL.
In his rookie season, serving as the primary backup behind Brady, Garoppolo improved leaps and bounds from where he started in training camp. He saw his first real game action in New England’s blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, going 6-7 for 70 yards and 1 touchdown pass, good for a passer rating of 147.9. It was a small sample size, but it gave Pats fans a possible glimpse of the future.
Garoppolo got a another chance to get some snaps in Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills, in which he went 10 for 17 for 90 yards. It was a rougher outing for Garoppolo, against the aggressive Wide-9 defense of Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, but he still showed some flashes of potential.
I decided to take an in-depth film study into Garoppolo’s rookie season, focusing on his two regular season games against Kansas City and Buffalo. What I saw was a mobile quarterback with impressive anticipation, adequate arm strength, and good pocket awareness for a rookie. With continued development under Tom Brady and with Bill Belichick as coach, it is easy to see Garoppolo as the heir to Brady. Is Garoppolo perfect? No, but he possesses traits that are needed to be a successful NFL starting quarterback.
Let’s start with the KC game.
With 8:24 left in the 4th quarter, the New England offense lines up in “12” personnel with Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman split out wide. LaFell is running a post route and Edelman is running a comeback. Kansas City counters by showing a “Quarters” coverage look, but brings the strong safety down at the snap to switch into a Cover 3 defense.
Garoppolo has LaFell open on the post, but this requires a precise throw with linebacker Tamba Hali guarding the intermediate area of the field. With KC rushing four defenders and one rusher right in his face, Garoppolo steps into his throw and gets the ball to LaFell. The result of the play was incomplete, as LaFell could not hold onto the ball, but this play shows Garoppolo’s pocket presence, arm strength, and accuracy.
Now, let’s check out a few snaps from the Buffalo game. I want to highlight a couple of plays that weren’t too flashy—or even successful at times—but flash enough potential for one to believe that Jimmy G can succeed in the NFL. First, let’s start off with the second half in Garoppolo’s first series.
Against the aggressive Buffalo defense, which is playing a Cover 1 here, New England’s wideouts are not able to gain any separation: Edelman is funneled to the safety and LaFell cannot get past his man on the go-route.
Buffalo sends a man to blitz off the right edge, and he charges right into the backfield after TE Steve Maneri whiffs on the chip block. Garoppolo does well to step up in the pocket and escape the edge rusher. However, with New England using its reserve O-line here, pressure comes from elsewhere, and Garoppolo—trying to scramble back to the line of scrimmage— is sacked by Mario Williams from behind for -1 yards. While he was sacked, this is a great example of the type of pocket awareness that many quarterbacks do not possess in their rookie season. As soon as Garoppolo realized he had no open man, he took off and tried to make a positive play. His mobility is an added bonus that is new to this New England offense, which is used to the slow-footed Tom Brady under center.
One of the rookie’s best throws came in the third quarter with the Patriots at Buffalo’s 44.
With LaFell wide left running a deep in-route, and Edelman in the slot on the right running a post, Garoppolo should have either receiver open, depending on where the free safety goes. On this play, the safety gives help on Edelman, leaving LaFell with inside leverage on his man to make the catch.
Aidan Curran is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. He has previously written for Scout.com and will begin writing for Inside the Pylon this semester. You can e-mail Aidan at firstname.lastname@example.org.