Patriots

Garoppolo's former QB coach has no doubt Jimmy G is ready

Garoppolo's former QB coach has no doubt Jimmy G is ready

A friend of Jimmy Garoppolo said the news of Tom Brady standing down and accepting a four-game suspension would do nothing to alter the thought process of Garoppolo. The former Eastern Illinois star has been preparing as if he’s the starter since Day 1.

But it’s not that simple. The responsibilities of being the No. 1 guy are extensive, the weight can be prohibitive. So, can someone with limited reps, playing behind the best QB of his generation, naturally slide in and navigate the dangerous NFL waters for the Super Bowl favorite? Garoppolo’s personal quarterback coach for nearly a decade, Jeff Christensen, asks, "Why not"?

“He’s had three years to be around Tom to watch, and Jimmy is a visual learner,” said Christensen, founder of Throw It Deep, one of the top QB schools in the country. “He’s had three years to be around Coach Belichick, who’s probably one of the top five defensive minds in maybe the history of the game of football. If you are a student, which he is, I have to believe he’s going to be substantially better than he was the last two years, and I have no reason to believe he’s going to do anything but succeed.”

The maturation of Garoppolo has been evident to anyone who’s paid attention through a slew of offseason training activities, mini camps, training camps and preseason football over the past two-plus years. The confident-but-in-over-his-head rookie has shown a greater command of the offense, to the point where those in the huddle quickly and wisely accept that the kid knows exactly what he’s doing. 

“When they [the QB] know that they are right, when they open their mouths and do something, and move somebody, and you know you’re right when you do it, that’s a very secure feeling that builds on your confidence,” noted Christensen. “It’s the simple things that when they start pinballing and stacking on top of each other, all of a sudden you get a guy who is really sure and that helps out how they deliver and throw the ball. It all plays into that picture as to what a great QB looks like, if that makes sense.”

Christensen has worked extensively with Redskins starter Kirk Cousins, the QB who made the second overall pick in the 2012 draft, Robert Griffin, expendable. He’s also worked with new Houston QB Brock Osweiler and Ryan Tannehill in Miami. He says Garoppolo’s one of those players who just gets it.

“Oh yeah, his technique is so good and the ball comes out so quick, which is what we did for seven years, teaching him how that happens, that he can make certain tight window throws out of instinct,” Christensen said. “When he sees a picture, he can just shoot it, whereas a lot of guys see a picture that appears tight and they choke it down and can’t throw it because they know they can’t get it in there. Jim can do that on instinct. That’s a 12-foot window 12 yards away and I can still put that ball right in that little hole. I got Gronk there. Bang. There’s no thought process that goes into it. It’s just like a computer, and because he gets the ball out so quickly he can make a lot of third down and 7 throws that a lot of guys can’t.”

Pats fans have been able to see little snippets of that from Garoppolo, first as a rookie in a game in Kansas City, then multiple times in the preseason last year. But now that he’s the starter, presumably, for four games, teams will approach him differently, game plan to take away what he does well, explore avenues to unnerve him. The list of quarterbacks who’ve failed to deliver when the game speeds up and schemes become more complex is long. Then again, most didn’t have the support system that Garoppolo will have going into Arizona in Week 1.

“Coach Belichick knows all the possible things they are going to throw at him, so he’s going to make sure that they get him all the looks that he knows that he’ll probably get,” said Christensen. “It’ll be real comforting the first time someone tries a double-backer weak side blitz and leaves a cover zero and he’s got Gronk going down the middle and he throws a BB for a touchdown of about 42 yards and people are going to go, ‘Uh oh, maybe we shouldn’t be so aggressive with this kid’. It only takes one of those and everybody gets really hesitant to blitz a guy that can just calmly with his feet lift it and shoot it accurately in a millisecond and throw it accurately doing so.”
 

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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