Perry’s Report Card: Garoppolo looks like a keeper vs. Dolphins
Perry’s Report Card: Garoppolo looks like a keeper vs. Dolphins
FOXBORO -- It's not easy for quarterbacks in the NFL to learn how to deal with contact. Fully-padded practices are rare, and even when they pop up on a team's schedule, signal-callers don red non-contact jerseys that make them off-limits.
The only times passers face the threat of full-speed hits are during preseason and regular-season games. It's the reason why Tom Brady argued that preseason snaps were important for him even though he was about to serve a four-game suspension.
There's no substitute for facing a defense that wants to -- and is allowed to -- lay you out.
That's all a long preamble to say this: Jimmy Garoppolo may still need some time to learn to protect himself. The shoulder injury he suffered when he was slammed to the turf by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso on Sunday could have been avoided, and it may be hard for him to get a better grasp at the risk-reward aspect of the position when his game reps disappear starting in Week 5.
However, if the Patriots believe Garoppolo can eventually adapt his game to keep himself out of harm's way? They may have a keeper on their hands. That's how good he was in two quarters of play against the Dolphins.
Let's dive deeper into his performance, and that of his teammates, in this week's report card.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a good plan in place for Miami's defense, and they had a quarterback in place to execute it. Whereas against the Cardinals and their talented secondary the Patriots went with a nearly 50-50 run-pass split, they threw it early and often against the Dolphins stout defensive front. The Patriots threw it 27 times against 13 runs with Garoppolo in the game, and he had the ball out of his hands in 2.07 seconds on average, according to our stop-watch guru Mike Giardi. When Brissett was inserted, the team was able to run it when everyone knew they would, and they were in good enough condition to keep running it late. They also executed easy-to-read misdirection pass plays and screens, helping the rookie get his feet underneath him as a passer. Aside from three fumbles and three penalties on the offensive line, this was a clean performance by the offense in what could have quickly ended up a chaotic mess.
Part of the reason Garoppolo's play has been so impressive is due to his work against the blitz. When the Dolphins brought extra pressure, he was 7-for-10 for 103 yards and a touchdown -- good enough for a quarterback rating of 136.7. Those are Brady-type numbers. He also continued to find success on third down, completing 6-of-7 attempts for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He appeared to make a couple of run-pass checks at the line of scrimmage that led to first downs, and he also read the field extremely well on all three of his touchdown throws: He stepped up in the pocket with a crowd around him and led Danny Amendola away from the defense with a quick throw over the middle for score No. 1; he held Miami's safety in the deep middle part of the field by looking left before throwing right for a 20-yard strike to Martellus Bennett; and he knew he was accountable for a free rusher coming from his blind side before making an off-balance throw to Amendola for his second touchdown of the day. Brissett, who was strip-sacked in the fourth quarter, will need to do a better job of protecting the football if he's asked to start against the Texans, and his late-game clock-management could be better -- he called for the ball early in the play-clock at times -- but overall, for the situation he was thrown into, he was more than serviceable. His poise running and sliding before contact and his ability to carry out successful play-fakes were impressive for a young player.
RUNNING BACK: B+
LeGarrette Blount is now fourth in the league in both rushing attempts and rushing yards after being asked to take on an increased role following Garoppolo's injury. He responded by running for 123 yards on 29 carries, including 57 yards after contact. Blount also forced four missed tackles, and he hurdled a defender for the second time in as many weeks. If the Texans look to hit him high and avoid those embarrassing misses, it could play into Blount's hands as he has little issue barreling over defenders who don't try to chop him down at the knees or ankles. Blount was also credited by McDaniels this week for his contributions in pass-protection -- a duty that's often reserved for the team's "sub backs," not their punishing "big back." Blount did fumble for the second time in as many weeks, but the Patriots recovered. James White ran effectively on one draw play, picking up 16 yards, but he was held to just three yards on three more carries. He caught two targets for five yards, and had an unsung effort play when he recovered Brissett's fumble on his second dive at the loose ball.
Julian Edelman continues to look as healthy as ever as he moves around on his twice-surgically-repaired left foot. He caught seven passes on 11 targets for 76 yards and helped get Garoppolo's big day started with a third-and-long conversion that required him to know precisely where the sticks were. Amendola caught all four of his targets for two scores and 50 yards, but he did lose a fumble, dropping the position group's overall grade. The unit's blocking ability in the running game helped cover any warts, though. Edelman and Chris Hogan were particularly effective on a misdirection pass from Brissett to Bennett that was completed three yards behind the line of scrimmage and turned up for a 26-yard gain.
TIGHT END: A-
Hard to put together a game any better than the one Bennett had on Sunday afternoon. He played all 80 snaps, despite at one point in the fourth quarter when it looked like he needed a break, and was highly effective both as a pass-catcher and a run-blocker. He saw just one more target (six) than he did in Week 1, catching five, but the damage he did with those catches was far greater against the Dolphins. He finished with 114 yards and a touchdown, including a 37-yard reception that was made possible by a good play-action fake from Brissett and a well-timed stiff-arm that Bennett planted on Dolphins corner Byron Maxwell. The timing required for that type of play is like blocking a shot in basketball, Bennette explained after. "Like Dikembe Mutombo." Bennett's blocks on Blount's nine-yard touchdown run and White's 16-yard rush off a draw stood out. Fullback James Develin deserves some credit for helping backs find room to run. He's one of the team's top lead-blockers.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
This group had a difficult challenge on its hands with Ndamukong Suh lined up on the other side of the line of scrimmage, but it held its ground when it needed to. This appeared to be left guard Joe Thuney's "welcome to the NFL" moment as he has been one of the team's best offensive linemen since the spring, but he had some difficulty against Miami, allowing four pressures and a hit as well as being flagged for two penalties. Left tackle Nate Solder made an impact in his first game back since suffering a season-ending biceps tear early last season. He was stout in pass protection (zero pressures) and he was a force in the running game. His combination of size and athleticism makes him a terror for linebackers and defensive backs when he's on the move. He did not take on a 100 percent workload in his first game back as he gave way to Cameron Fleming for 15 snaps. Shaq Mason saw a significant up-tick in snaps at right guard, getting 39 after playing 14 in Week 1. His hand injury may be improving, but it still seems to limit him somewhat as he was responsible for one sack. Overall, the group appears to be in very good condition as in each of the last two weeks, they have helped the team run effectively late in games.
The Patriots threw everything they could at the Dolphins late in the game, but they couldn't seem to come up with anything that could cool off Ryan Tannehill and his two top receivers, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. The absences of Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich clearly impact what the Patriots are able to dial up, and injuries to Malcolm Butler and Patrick Chung seemed to hamper their play on the field, but they'll expect a better performance on Thursday against the Texans than the one they turned in through the third and fourth quarters of Sunday's win. They gave up over 300 yards of offense in the second half, and they forced Tannehill into only five incompletions on his 27 attempts from the start of the third quarter on. They did, however, make a play at the end of the game to win it, which players pointed to as a positive after the fact.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
Chris Long was a monster. He recorded six pressures and four quarterback hits -- two of which led to Patriots interceptions. He also was the first to Tannehill after a bad Dolphins snap for a big loss, and he recovered a fumble forced by Logan Ryan. He also handled his duties in coverage, holding Miami to just a two-yard gain on the one play in which he was targeted. Otherwise? It was a quiet afternoon for New England's bodies up front. Rookie Vincent Valentine showed flashes of promise in his 17 snaps, picking up a quarterback hit and stuffing one run. Jabaal Sheard was productive as well, picking up four hurries and one quarterback hit, but the pressure up front wasn't generated consistently enough to help a secondary that had a lot on its plate.
Patricia and his defense missed Hightower, who suffered a knee injury in Week 1, in this one. His absence made it difficult to disguise coverages and pressures the way the Patriots typically like to. Jamie Collins seemed to handle his duties as the primary communicator in the middle of the defense, and Jonathan Freeny performed well as a run defender, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Trey Flowers. Still, not having a healthy Hightower on the field was an obvious detriment. Newly-acquired 'backer Barkevious Mingo and rookie sixth-rounder Elandon Roberts both saw their first defensive snaps as members of the Patriots, and Mingo made a good hustle tackle pursuing the football down the line of scrimmage from the back side. His speed could be an asset if he's able to continue to make strides in picking up the defense.
In some respects, the Patriots have to tip their caps when it comes to the performances turned in by Tannehill, Landry and Parker in the second half. Landry is one of the best run-after-catch receivers New England will see all season, and Parker is an emerging young player with immense physical talent. Still, under normal circumstances, the Patriots would like to have better coverage. It's atypical for them to allow two different pass-catchers to go off for over 100 yards of receiving in the same game. Butler appeared to be limited by the ankle injury he dealt with all week in practice leading up to the game, allowing more receiving yards than any other game he's started since Week 1 of 2015 when he was asked to check Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown. Chung also seemed limited, and both he and Collins were shaken up on tight end Jordan Cameron's 12-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Justin Coleman was trusted with significant playing time, he actually saw more snaps than Logan Ryan, but was in coverage for a 24-yard scoring strike from Tannehill to Kenny Stills. Coleman is the clear-cut choice as one of the team's top-three corners over rookie Cyrus Jones right now. The Patriots got good play out of its deep safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, who made the game-saving pick in the final seconds, but otherwise this was a forgettable day for the team's coverage players.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
Belichick often cites how lucky he has been in his career to have two kickers as productive as Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski, but Gostkowski's missed field goal late in the fourth quarter was a rare letdown in a critical situation. Gostkowski did, however, execute his job as a touchback kicker in this contest, keeping the ball out of the hands of Miami's dangerous returners. Of his six kickoffs, five went for touchbacks and Kenyan Drake returned the sixth from deep in his own end zone to the Dolphins 10-yard line. The Patriots continue to entrust the punt-return job to Amendola, and he brought one back 19 yards. That figures to be a job that Cyrus Jones takes over at some point in his Patriots career, but for now they're going with the veteran.