Recently, Andy Benoit of MMQB listed a bunch of back-up quarterbacks he thought were better than Colin Kaepernick. Here is his list:
Most of those names are laughable – I ran through all the names here and gave some quick thoughts on them – but there was one name that intrigued me: Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft by the New England Patriots, seemingly as the heir-apparent to Tom Brady. With Garoppolo’s rookie contract expiring at the end of the 2017 season, this sets up an interesting decision for the Patriots: extend Garoppolo and assume Brady only has a year or two starting years left, let Garoppolo walk after 2017, or trade Garoppolo. Teams have already begun inquiring about him, with the Patriots rejecting those offers. It seems obvious that they like him.
We got a glimpse of what life under Garoppolo could look like in New England. With Brady suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, Garoppolo was the starter for the first two weeks before going down with an injury. The numbers were terrific: he completed 71.2% of his passes for 496 yards, 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a QB Rating of 119.0.
As we all know, numbers don’t tell the whole story. I wanted to know how he looked in those two starts from a film perspective. I watched every one of his passes and made gifs of quite a few of them. I wanted to highlight a few of those here that are indicative of his overall performance.
On the left side of the line, you’ll see three routes: a wheel route under a slant, with a late-breaking out under the other two routes. It’s a good combo, designed to do two things: get at least one of the guys open and give an easy read for Garoppolo. All the receivers are essentially in the same line of sight, so he can make three reads by looking at the same spot.
In looking at how Garoppolo’s feet are set at the top of his drop and don’t move, it’s clear he’s not looking anywhere else. He’s looking for that out route to break and he’s throwing there. He has predetermined this throw before the ball is snapped. This is the beginning of a pattern.
Quick play fake to LeGarrette Blount  before throwing to Julian Edelman  in the middle of the field. Garoppolo doesn’t do a good job at selling the fake and never looks anywhere other than directly down the middle of the field. Because of this, Tyrann Mathieu  has no reason to move from his spot in the middle of the field. Garoppolo gets the ball out quickly and completes the pass, but Mathieu breaks on it and lays a pretty good lick on Edelman.
Go/out combo on the left. Once again, Garoppolo stares at the out route the entire time. Once again, he knows exactly where this ball is going before it is snapped.
Another go/out combo, another predetermined throw to the out route. He never looks anywhere else.
This one is nice. Garoppolo looks at the defense before the snap, sees a single high safety and a the cornerback tight on the line against Chris Hogan . At the snap, Garoppolo looks down the middle of the field to hold the safety and to make sure he’s not bailing to Hogan’s side. Safety stays put, so he looks to the left to see that Hogan has beat his man clean. The cornerback looks back at Garoppolo which gives Hogan even more separation. A nice throw over the top and the Patriots pick up 6 points. Good pre-snap read from Garoppolo and a great release by Hogan.
Garoppolo is looking to his right the entire time. Patriots are running curl/flat. Garoppolo is originally looking at the curl, but it’s obvious from the beginning that it’s covered up. He stays on it too long. Instead of looking off quickly, he stays on it a beat before looking at the flat, waiting another beat, and throwing the ball. The pass is behind the receiver, so the converging defender can’t get to it, but this could have been very bad. Throwing late to the boundary is a pretty easy way to get the throw jumped and taken back for a pick-six.
Hey! Speaking of throwing late to the boundary!
After the snap, he looks middle, left, middle, right. He ends up throwing to Edelman on the right, but it takes him a long time to get there. When he finally does throw it, he floats it high and inside. That is a perfect way to throw a pick-six. There is a little confusion on defense so the coverage is slow to get there, but this could have ended very poorly for him.
Curl/out on the right. Like we’ve seen, Garoppolo locks onto the out pattern as soon as the ball is snapped. Patrick Peterson  is playing over the outside receiver so he’s a little deep. As soon as he sees Garoppolo’s feet set, he jumps the route. He gets there a beat too late. Even then, he gets there at the same time as the ball.
Keep in mind, this all takes place during Garoppolo’s first career start. Defenses don’t exactly know who he is at this point, so the defenders are playing back a bit. You could see them start to key in on his tendencies as the game went on. If they started to figure it out here, that doesn’t exactly bode well for a full season.
Another play, another staredown. Slant/flat on the right. Garoppolo waits for the receiver to clear the underneath defender and fires. He doesn’t pay attention to the linebacker in the middle that the receiver is running towards. He’s reading the underneath defender and that’s it. As we’ve seen multiple times already, it doesn’t kill him here, but this is not something that should be repeated.
Flat/post/delayed post combo on the left. Garoppolo stares at Edelman on the post from the time the ball is snapped. Like the previous play, he’s reading the underneath defender. As soon as Edelman clears the defender, Garoppolo lets the ball fly. The ball is high over the middle, leading Edelman directly into the safety.
This is bad for a handful of reasons. Throwing high over the middle can end in an easy interception for the deep safety or getting your receiver killed. Had Garoppolo read the safety, he could have had a couple options here.
He could have pumped to Hogan on the delayed post in an attempt to draw the safety away from the middle of the field. That would not only clear out the middle so Edelman wouldn’t take a big hit, but it would open up the possibility of a big gain after the catch.
He also could have pumped to Edelman to move the safety and open up a throw to Hogan.
You’ll notice that Garoppolo takes a hit directly after releasing the ball, meaning he likely wouldn’t have had time for those pump fakes. I know that. You know that. Garoppolo doesn’t know that. He gives no indication that he knows pressure is coming. He threw the ball he did because he was making a read on a single defender. He didn’t think about anything else.
This play, man. This play! This could have been huge.
Garoppolo starts by looking down the middle of the field. The Patriots have a stacked look on the right, with the receivers running a post/go combo. The post breaks off and gets inside the defenders. Garoppolo comes off of it quickly, comes to the left, waits a beat and throws to the curl. Garoppolo comes to that route after the break has already occurred, meaning he’s late. It’s a long throw and the receiver is able to cover some ground. Not enough, but, as we’ve talked about, throwing late to the boundary is a recipe for disaster.
Now imagine this. Garoppolo looks down the middle of the field and sees the receiver starting to get inside the defenders. Instead of throwing that, he does what he does here: he looks left. Watch how the safety follows his eyes. That opens the middle of the field. Garoppolo looks to the curl just enough to move the safety, knowing what he has in the middle. Safety moves, Garoppolo looks back to the middle and throws over the top. If that play isn’t a touchdown, it’s pretty close to one.
It’s possible that the coaches told him, “Look to this guy. If he’s not open at the top of the break, throw here.” If that’s the case, I get it. This play occurred on 3rd down, so I can understand just wanting to move the chains. I also understand that Garoppolo is young and doesn’t have much playing time, so his thought process isn’t where it needs to be.
All that being said, this could have been huge with just a slight change in his progression. It’s that vision that could be a difference maker. It’s too early to say whether he has that vision or not, but the fact that he had time and didn’t at least consider trying to pull that safety out of the middle gives me a little pause.
This is really nice. Garoppolo sees a single high safety and a stacked defender look in the middle. Garoppolo knows he had a couple shallow dig routes going to the middle, which should pull up the defenders. He also knows he has a deep out that should draw the attention of the safety. At the snap, he looks left, pulling the safety a couple steps in that direction. The dig routes do their work, pulling the defenders up and freeing up space in the middle. Martellus Bennett  runs a lazy veer off the right before putting his foot in the ground to violently run inside the defender. With the safety drifting to the left, the middle of the field is open. Garoppolo throws a beautiful pass – on-target and on-time – for the touchdown.
Through his two games, I didn’t see this too often, but he does it really well right here. He uses his knowledge of the play – as well as subtle movements – to manipulate the defense to open a sliver to fit the ball. Good read and execution on this.
At the snap, Garoppolo looks at Edelman in the middle of the field and never looks anywhere else. Once again, he is reading a single defender but isn’t looking at anything else. Garoppolo is reading Kiko Alonso . When Alonso breaks towards the curl outside of Edelman, Garoppolo throws at Edelman. He doesn’t look to see the dropping Jelani Jenkins  in the area Edelman is running into. Jenkins is a tad late to respond and the pass is complete.
I have more, but I’ll stop here because I feel a couple patterns have been well established and I don’t need to beat them into the ground. In his two starts, Garoppolo has shown brief flashes of doing very good things – that Bennett touchdown is a perfect example – but most of these plays have shown a quarterback with not much vision or anticipation. We’ve seen him stare down receivers and throw late to the boundary on numerous occasions, both things that should not be done. We’ve seen extremely simple reads – watch this man, throw when my man is past him – that are simply not repeatable.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since I’ve started paying attention to football has been not to evaluate a play based solely on the outcome. Evaluate the scheme; the thought process. Football can be a fluky game. Just because a play works doesn’t mean it should be repeated. A few plays aside, Garoppolo’s 2016 starts are an object lesson in not judging the outcome. He gets away with a lot more than he has any reason to.
I’m not saying Garoppolo is bad or isn’t capable of being a quality starter. What I’m saying is that he’s young and I haven’t seen enough of him yet to saying he’s definitively good or definitively bad. What I can say is that he wasn’t nearly as impressive as the numbers indicated and anyone that is super high on him should think about pumping the brakes.
I can definitively say this: if he played a full season in the same way he played in these two starts, he would not be held in high regard.