Film Review: Jimmy Garoppolo’s First Audition of 2017

From every perspective the 2017 presesaon is a huge four-game stretch for Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Patriots, who see Garoppolo in practice everyday, probably already think they know what they have with their fourth-year backup QB.

However, for everyone else, and for Garoppolo, the 2017 preseason serves as another audition for a starting job in 2018, or a contract extension to be heir to the throne in New England.

In reality, teams other than the Patriots haven’t seen a lot of Jimmy Garoppolo. They have 94 regular season pass attempts, 119 preseason attempts, and 1.5 regular season starts.

Every piece of information on the 2014 second round pick is vital, especially if you’re a team that’s considering making Garoppolo their franchise quarterback in 2018.

In his first audition of 2017, the statistics look spectacular for Garoppolo: 22-28, 235 yards, 2 TD, 125.4 passer rating.

The tape was good, but Garoppolo was shaky early on with his accuracy, and made a number of short, conservative throws, mostly by design.

Garoppolo completed just two passes of 20+ air yards, and averaged just 4.9 air yards per pass completion against the Jags. For comparison, Garoppolo averaged 6.0 air yards per pass completion during the 2016 season.

Having said that, let’s take a look at the film from Garoppolo in the Pats first preseason game:

Pocket Movement

The best part of Garoppolo’s game last Thursday night was pocket movement and eluding pressure. The Patriots backup offensive line had a rough day, and Garoppolo was only sacked twice largely in part due to his excellent pocket movement.

For the most part, Garoppolo was able to elude pressure while still keeping his eyes downfield on his receivers. He also threw well under pressure, and didn’t let defenders in his face or around him alter his accuracy. Having the ability to buy time and throw accurately under pressure is what separates good quarterbacks from great ones, not to say Garoppolo is great yet.

There are two scrambles in particular that stand out in this one, both of which happen to be on passes to Austin Carr.

First, Garoppolo get’s immediate pressure on a free run on an A-gap blitz. It looks like the Jags have Garoppolo dead to rights, but he’s able to scramble to his right, all while keeping his eyes downfield, and he throws an accurate strike to Carr, who makes a tremendous catch on the play. The throw was a little behind Carr, but Garoppolo is in a full sprint at this point, and makes a very difficult throw look relatively easy.

Second, the touchdown pass to Carr in the second quarter. It’s a bit of a risky pass, but Garoppolo eludes the pressure and back pedals just enough to buy some more time, and then delivers a strike to Carr. People will question this decision, but when you look at the coverage Garoppolo throws this ball high to the back of the end zone, where only Carr could truly make a play on it. Worst case here is the ball sails out the back of the end zone for an incompletion, and the best case happened. That kind of arm strength off his back foot, after eluding the pressure, is great stuff from Garoppolo.

There was also another play that caught my eye, and that was Garoppolo’s 3-yard scramble in the third quarter. The pressure comes immediately from his right side, and he climbs the pocket while holding onto the ball after Jags defensive lineman Sheldon Day swipes down on it for the strip sack. It’s not easy to hang onto that ball, and there are many instances of quarterbacks fumbling on plays just like that.

Arm Strength

One trait that you love to see from a quarterback is easy arm strength. In other words, can the QB deliver a missile while not speeding up his throwing motion?

There were three throws from Garoppolo against the Jags that displayed easy arm strength. We already saw one above on the Austin Carr TD. The other two are displayed here.

First, Garoppolo completes a 20-yard (in the air) comeback to Austin Carr. That’s a vintage route concept that the Pats run on a regular basis. These throws look easier than they are, and sideline passes like this one are great indicators of arm strength. When you hear the cliche’s about arm strength during draft season this is what analysts and scouts mean.

The next throw is a big time NFL throw from Garoppolo to training camp hero Jacob Hollister. Garoppolo has pressure in his face, but stands tall in the pocket, and delivers a high strike to Hollister. The throw has plenty of zip, but it also is thrown in a spot where only Hollister, who’s bracketed by the coverage on the play, has a shot of catching it. So now we have arm strength and accuracy all in one.

Some may believe that arm strength is an overrated trait for a quarterback. It is to some extent, as we all know it doesn’t matter if you can throw 80 yards in the air if you can’t do it accurately. Garoppolo displayed accuracy and arm strength against the Jags, which is a winning combination.

Dips in Accuracy/Mechanics

Garoppolo is typically a deadly accurate passer, and his 78.6 completion percentage against the Jags would suggest he was accurate once again. He was as the game progressed, but Garoppolo missed some throws early on that he should have had.

The best example of this was a 2nd and 7 check down to Dion Lewis. Garoppolo does a nice job of climbing the pocket, and goes to deliver a short pass to Lewis that could have potentially picked up the first down, or at least made third down more manageable. Garoppolo get’s sloppy with his feet, and drags his back foot, instead of setting his feet and delivering the pass. Save the toe drags for the receivers, Jimmy. The result is a hard pass that immediately dips to Lewis’ right. The incompletion was a drive killer for the Pats.

One of the few plays in this game where Garoppolo allowed pressure to effect him was on an incompletion to Hollister who was open in the middle of the field. Garoppolo throws a nice pump fake to freeze the linebacker, and eludes the pressure off the edge, but then the pressure comes into his face, and he rushes the throw. The result is a ball in the dirt, and an incompletion. Overall, Garoppolo passed very well against pressure, but he allowed it to speed up his throwing motion here, which led to the wild throw. You typically see Garoppolo complete this pass.

Conclusion

In all, you can’t argue with the statistical output of Garoppolo’s performance, and once he cleaned up some mechanical/accuracy issues, he looked like the quarterback that got this hype train rolling last season.

Although I won’t go as far as Bill Belichick did when he said that there’s little drop off from Brady to Garoppolo, there is some truth to that statement.

Mainly, the truth is that the scheme and timing of the Pats offense doesn’t have to change when Garoppolo is under center. When he isn’t facing constant pressure, Garoppolo comes close to matching Brady’s lightning quick release, and he’s able to make all the throws necessary to carry the Pats offense. That’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. If Garoppolo is the heir to the throne, the Pats offense, that has been the same since Belichick arrived in New England 17+ seasons ago, doesn’t have to change. If it’s Jacoby Brissett, for example, things would have to change to curtail to Brissett’s strengths.

There was a lot to like from Garoppolo against the Jags, and no quarterback, not even Brady, is perfect. As the 2017 preseason goes on it will be interesting to see if the Pats let Garoppolo let loose a little more, or if the plan is to hide his abilities, or lack thereof, to make it easier to hang onto Garoppolo after 2017.

Bonus

Unfortunately, the bonus this time around isn’t a positive one. This sack came on the Patriots first drive of the game on a third short. LaAdrian Waddle goes for the cut block, and whiffs, but he’s expecting Garoppolo to get rid of the ball quickly on a 3rd and 1, and Garoppolo hangs onto the ball too long. Plus, this pressure comes from the side of the field that Garoppolo is looking at, meaning he should have seen the defender coming. Even though it’s an ugly block attempt from Waddle, Garoppolo has to get rid of the ball here.

Double Bonus

This play has some good and bad. The good: again, this is a nice escape by Garoppolo. The pressure comes off of both edges, and he does a good job of stepping up into the pocket to avoid a sack. However, the turtle at the end of the play isn’t ideal. Ideally, you’d like to see Jimmy play a little game of cat and mouse with the linebacker there. If he keeps his eyes up, and stays on his feet, he sees the linebacker come off his coverage of Dion lewis. On 3rd and 4, this could have been a first down if Garoppolo sees Lewis uncover.