Check the Film: Patriots offense struggles to get going
|Garoppolo making throws under duress was a theme of the night|
I didn't get to see the first half of last night's preseason opener, but I did rewatch the entire game later on via NFL Game Rewind. The film doesn't lie, and here's what it told me about last night's action.
All things considered, not a terrible night from Jimmy Garoppolo. The second year quarterback and possible Week One starter had his ups and downs against the Packers, but he also didn't have much to work with. His offensive line, which was missing four likely starters along with primary backup tackle Marcus Cannon, struggled to keep the rush off of Jimmy for much of the night. His receiving core, which consisted mainly of Josh Boyce, Brandon Gibson and Jonathan Krause, was also a far cry from the supporting cast he'll have if he makes a few starts in Brady's absence this year.
Most of the negatives from last night came from issues that have plagued Garoppolo throughout camp. While the offensive line did him no favors, holding onto the ball for too long is clearly an issue for Jimmy, who needs to show more situational awareness than he did taking a sack with no timeouts late in the second half. He was fortunate to salvage that possession with a clock-killing spike with three seconds left, giving Stephen Gostkowski a chance at a 56 yard attempt.
The Patriots and Garoppolo eventually adjusted, going with mostly quick-hitting short passes in the second half. This gave the overwhelmed offensive line a chance to hold up in protection and, in turn, gave Jimmy a chance to get into a rhythm. That dink and dunk approach certainly helped his completion percentage, as Jimmy completed 15 of his 17 second half attempts after going a miserable 5-13 in the first half. That's all well and good, but an offense can't survive the amount of negative plays given up by the offensive line when averaging just 6.4 yards per completion, as Garoppolo did during that second half.
The amount of pressure and quick, short passes weren't surprising, given the offensive line the Pats trotted out in front of Jimmy. However, his struggles throwing downfield when he was afforded time did take me aback, especially since that was a strength during his impressive run in last year's preseason. Josh Boyce deserves a lot of the flak he's catching today (more on that in a second), but it's worth wondering how much different his night looks if Jimmy was more accurate on a few throws downfield, notably this one...
and this one, which should have been intercepted. Boyce had an early step on CB Quinten Rollins here, but had to slow down to catch up to the underthrow.
His other noteworthy overthrow of Boyce was a forced deep ball to the end zone during the one-minute drill drive just before halftime. Not a great decision given Boyce's lack of separation, but if you miss that throw, you have to miss it long rather than short. Boyce actually deserved credit on said play for his effort in breaking up another would-be Rollins interception.
All in all, Garoppolo completed just two of his nine passing attempts on passes thrown 10 yards or further in the air. The Patriots are unlikely to ask him to chuck it downfield often if he winds up in a starting role this year, but he needs to be better on downfield throws than what he showed last night. Otherwise, defenses will be able to crowd the short zones and make it far more difficult to complete those quick slants and outs that padded his completion statistics last night.
However, there certainly where some positive signs as well. For example, check out this third down play on his first series of the game. The Packers send five rushers on the third and seven play and get good upfield push, with James White, Tre Jackson and Chris Barker all allowing pressure. None of it phases Jimmy, who calmly sits in the pocket and delivers a strike to Boyce for 16 yards and the first down.
There's no denying Jimmy has the tools to be effective at this level. There's also no denying that he's far from a finished product. We'll see how he looks as the preseason goes on, particularly if he's afforded better support from his receivers and offensive line.
Injuries limited this group to essentially being a two-man show last night, with Jonas Gray and James White gobbling up the vast majority of the meaningful snaps. One of the big takeaways from the night was the increased speed displayed by Gray on his 55 yard touchdown run, on which he outran two defensive backs to finish the play with six. It's a play that he likely doesn't finish last year, as his long run of the season was merely 20 yards in 2014. Gray revealed after the game that he focused on losing a little weight and adding some breakaway speed this offseason, and that showed up not only on the touchdown, but also on on an impressive second down play with 6:25 to go in the first quarter. On the play, Gray wiggles his way free from HaHa Clinton-Dix, who had gotten penetration into the backfield, before making a quick cut upfield that prevents two defenders on the edge from stopping him. Again, simply a play that he's unlikely to make last year, when he mostly got what his blocking provided. Certainly a positive sign for the back who appears to be in line to get early down work Week One while LeGarrette Blount is suspended.
As for James White, it was more of a mixed bag for him. He flashed his touted ability as a pass catcher, and particularly stood out after the catch, with several impressive jukes and cuts that turned short passes into significant gains. However, he needs to improve at pass protection if he expects to get meaningful regular season snaps with Brady on the field. Despite only being in protection for nine snaps, he allowed one sack and was overpowered on several other plays, forcing Garoppolo to get rid of the ball earlier than he would have liked. There isn't a lack of effort from White in this department, but his lack of power was evident several times against Green Bay's blitzing linebackers. Plays like this, in which White makes initial contact at the 12 yard line but is blasted several yards back to the feet of Garoppolo by linebacker Joe Thomas, will likely stand out more in Belichick's eyes than White's work with the ball in his hand.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Another group that's been significantly thinned out recently by injuries, and another group that didn't exactly do Jimmy a lot of favors. Chief among the culprits was Boyce, who had a major opportunity with Aaron Dobson, Brian Tyms, Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman out. Patriots quarterbacks were a miserable 2-11 for 19 yards and an interception when targeting Boyce. Some of those plays weren't his fault, and having the ref get in the way when he had a step on the defense was undeniably unlucky. However, Boyce's performance left a lot to be desired. He had two drops, including one that would have moved the chains on third down, and failed to get separation on several of his targets. However, most damning was the interception, on which CB Ladarius Gunter simply took the ball away from him. Garoppolo could have located his throw better, but the worst case scenario on that play has to be a contested incomplete pass. He also failed to locate the ball on one deep shot after getting a step behind the defense.
While Boyce's chances of making the roster took a hit, Brandon Gibson had a solid day. He did nothing spectacular but caught all four of his targets, with three of those moving the chains. One telling sequence came late in the third quarter, as Garoppolo went to Gibson on back-to-back completions and a first down after a negative running play put the offense in a long-yardage situation. That reliability could very well earn the veteran a depth spot on the roster.
Undrafted rookie tight end Jimmay Mundine has seen an uptick in reps recently, and got the majority of the snaps last night. However, he failed to distinguish himself as a receiver, failing to reel in his lone target on the night, and was a liability as a blocker. He remains a longshot to make the final roster.
Lets just say the Patriots offensive line group was a bit green. The only starter with regular season pro experience was right tackle Cameron Fleming, who played sparingly as a rookie last year. The interior of the offensive line consisted of three rookies, with fourth round picks Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason flanking undrafted rookie center David Andrews. Finally, the left tackle was converted interior lineman Chris Barker, fifth on the Patriots tackle depth chart when everyone is healthy. Not a recipe for success.
I'll start with the positives, which came largely from the trio of rookies inside. All three flashed good moments, particularly in the running game. The highlight of the night came on Jonas Gray's long touchdown run, as Mason pulled from left to right, got in the way of his primary responsibility (#51, Nate Palmer), before climbing to the second level and expertly using his body to impede two defenders from reaching Gray on the edge. That, combined with fantastic blocks from James Develin and Michael Hoomanawanui, created the wide open crease Gray was able to exploit.
However, Mason came in with little experience in pass protection after playing in a run heavy option offense at Georgia Tech. That stood out like a sore thumb on tape, as Mason gave up pressure throughout the contest. Here, Mason gets beat almost immediately off the snap with a basic swim move, forcing a rushed incompletion to Boyce.
That was the start of a nightmarish sequence of four consecutive pass plays (spanning two possessions) that saw Mason give up pressure. The sequence ended with this play, on which pressure from Mason's assignment forces a rushed read that got James White shaken up on the play.
As expected for such an inexperienced pass blocker, many of Mason's issues were technique-based. Here, he allows #99 Bruce Gaston to transfer all his power to Mason's outside shoulder, which allows Gaston to shed his block and chase down Garoppolo for a poorly timed sack just before halftime.
While none of the youngsters were perfect, Andrews and Jackson looked a bit more steady on the interior. Neither looked out of place in protection, with Andrews in particular flashing some nastiness in his willingness to finish blocks. All three of the interior linemen also flashed their mobility in reaching the second level. That was particularly evident on this second quarter White screen, on which both Mason and Andrews hit moving targets to spring the shifty back.
The rookies all fared better than left tackle Chris Barker, who really struggled against the speed of Jay Elliot on the edge. Barker struggled in practice earlier this week when Nate Solder's leaving practice pushed him to the first team, and he simply didn't look like an NFL caliber tackle last night. Fleming was better than Barker, but he also had his occasional issues with speed on the outside. One of only other active lineman with meaningful regular experience, Josh Kline got reps at both center and guard, but seems clearly behind Andrews at center and both Jackson and Mason at guard on the depth chart. Kline's biggest obstacle so far as a pro has been his lack of power, and that showed up a few times in his limited opportunities last night.
Finally, newly acquired guard Ryan Groy only got three snaps, but was beat like a drum in protection on two of them. Not a good start for his Patriots career.
In the interest of better evaluating play in the secondary, I'm waiting until NFL Game Rewind puts out their ALL 22 footage to evaluate the defense. That should be out hopefully by Sunday, depending on the film's availability.