Save for his pregame introduction and the two drives he led, Thursday night's preseason opener against the Packers didn't belong to Tom Brady, it belonged to backup Jimmy Garoppolo.
After seeing limited work in his rookie season, Garoppolo finds himself in a much different situation this August than a year prior. At this point in time, no matter how much it might seem like Judge Richard Berman is one step away from vacating the punishment, Brady is still set to serve a four-game suspension at the start of the season. And the second-year QB out of Eastern Illinois is still set to start Week 1 against the Steelers. The question is, is Garoppolo ready for the challenge?
His first game action of the season was a mixed-bag, as Jimmy G finished 20/30 for 159 yards, a pick and a 65.9 QB rating. He was sacked seven times by the Packer defense, half a sign of his difficulties to get the ball out on time (an issue that's plagued him all camp long) and half a sign of the second and third-string lineman who were blocking in front of him. There is the fact that Garoppolo was 2/9 throwing to Josh Boyce for 19 yards and said pick, which made him 18/21 for 140 yards when he threw to everyone else. Not half-bad, right?
But even for all of Boyce's total inability to catch or fight for the football, some of the throws going his way simply weren't good enough on the part of Garoppolo, even if Boyce is incapable of coming back to the ball/shaking the defender/fighting for the ball/adjusting to the throw/etc.
There are always extenuating circumstances when it comes to preseason football, but the guys over at Pro Football Focus were especially harsh on Garoppolo, handing him the worst QB grade of all performers from Thursday night:
In [Garoppolo's] most significant action since his last preseason outing just under a year ago, many had hoped to see a second year leap. Instead all they got was confirmation that Tom Brady, suspension or not, is going nowhere. Garoppolo struggled all night long and while his receivers (chiefly Josh Boyce) didn’t help him, there’s no denying that he showed a lack of awareness in the pocket and failed to show the kind of accuracy a starting quarterback needs. It’s why he earned the lowest grade of the night (-4.7) with nothing highlighting his struggles like a couple of dropped interceptions on under thrown deep balls by Quintin Rollins. Instead of making a claim for a starting spot he’s opened up questions as to whether he’s a worthy backup, completing just two passes (on nine attempts) on passes thrown over 10 yards in the air.
Garoppolo definitely didn't have the kind of night he had hoped for, and he got no help from Boyce or his line, but again, it wasn't as bad as it seemed at first watch. As Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald points out, Garoppolo finished the night by completing 15-consecutive throws to players not named Josh Boyce. When initially he was force-feeding Boyce with throw after throw, Garoppolo began to look away from the wideout and distribute the ball to other areas of the field, a good sign of his ability to adjust and correct his earlier missteps.
Heading into Saturday night's game against the Saints, Garoppolo again figures to get a majority of the playing time. If we see more of the bad in his game - the indecision in the pocket, the inability to get the ball out quick enough and spotty accuracy downfield - it'll be cause for concern. Or, Bill Belichick can just leave Boyce back in New England and see if that does the trick.
Photo credit: Fansided.com