PATS REPORTER

Perry: Why are Pats starting Hoyer over Stidham vs. KC?

PATS REPORTER

It's a question that has an easy answer, yet the initial question sprouts more and more the deeper and deeper you drill down into the thing. 

Why is Brian Hoyer expected to be the quarterback when the Patriots take on the Chiefs and their omnipotent offense on Monday night? Well, he's the No. 2. He has been, really, since Jarrett Stidham missed time in training camp with an injury. 

Hoyer practiced all last week as the backup, and though I've been told that Stidham has looked good in the opportunities he's been given, there's an established hierarchy at the position that slots in Hoyer as Cam Newton's backup.

Newton's out. Looks like Hoyer will be the guy in Kansas City.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

This goes back to Stidham's training-camp ailment. The vast majority of the quarterback reps at that point went to Newton, with Hoyer getting an emergency-replacement's load. In the game simulation practice inside Gillette Stadium, Newton ran one offense. Hoyer and Stidham were the quarterbacks for the other. 

Without any preseason games for Stidham and Hoyer to compete -- in the public eye -- for the No. 2 job, Hoyer appears to have taken it and held on tight. Of the two players, it was apparent in camp that Hoyer was the best-equipped to run the offense at the line of scrimmage. There was no quarterback at Patriots practices who had more command, who was as definitive in his calls, who was as vocal behind center. 

 

Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels value the ability to get an offense out of a bad play-call and into a good one purely by deciphering what it is an opposing defense is showing pre-snap. That may be Hoyer's greatest strength. 

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Outside of two deep throws to Devin Ross on back-to-back days of training camp early on, Hoyer was not an effective down-the-field thrower. But he makes his layups. He has a good understanding of when the football should leave his hand, and he should be more adept than the second-year quarterback behind him at taking care of the football. 

In spot duty, those care-taker elements of the position carry weight. 

WHAT'S THIS MEAN FOR THE YOUNG GUY?

It's still too early for anyone to give up on Stidham. 

In his second year out of Auburn, he's on a track similar to the one we saw from Jimmy Garoppolo. Stidham left a nothing-like-an-NFL-offense scheme at Auburn, was drafted in the fourth round and is now in Year 2 of his development. Garoppolo was a second-round pick -- giving him more immediate cache than Stidham, a fourth-rounder -- who left a nothing-like-an-NFL-offense Division 2 scheme and saw no playing time through his first two seasons. Both players had tremendously-productive rookie preseasons. 

The difference? 

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Garoppolo was named the backup quarterback in Week 1 of his rookie season -- like Stidham -- and kept that job until he was traded in 2017. Of course having Brady, who hadn't missed a game since 2008, could be deemed a greater barrier to playing time for Garoppolo than Newton would be for his understudy. And in that sense, Hoyer provides a layer of insurance that the Patriots now can lean upon. 

Stidham still has very real athleticism and arm talent. There's an argument to be made that he should be playing with Newton out, if only for the Patriots to get a better sense of what they have in him. 

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Is he worth keeping around as the heir apparent? It was only a few months ago when it looked like they were comfortable rolling into the 2020 season with him as their starter. Is he not progressing at the rate they've expected? Do his teammates rally around him him difficult circumstances against a good team on the road? Can he create explosive plays -- with his arms or his legs -- to help keep pace with the Chiefs? 

Answers to those questions could go a long way in helping the Patriots determine what's next at the position. Newton is on a one-year deal and can be franchised in 2021. But if this ends up as a one-and-done relationship, the Patriots are right back in the same spot they were in mid-June with no clear-cut solution at the most important position on the roster. With no Year 2 preseason for Stidham, how he performs in some regular-season game action would be telling.

 

If Newton is unable to return to the Patriots in time to play Week 5 against the Broncos, and if Hoyer doesn't give the team a chance in Kansas City, perhaps the starter job is opened up and Stidham will have a real opportunity to show what he can do. 

Until then, it looks like he'll have to wait.

HOW DO THEY KEEP IT CLOSE?

The Patriots don't have to look all that far back for a formula that could help them keep the Chiefs within striking distance on the scoreboard. Back in Week 3 against the Raiders, three Patriots backs were able to rush for over 200 yards combined. They racked up 72 yards receiving and averaged 8.0 yards per touch. They forced seven missed tackles and posted 111 yards after contact.

Newton, meanwhile, was not a significant part of the overall run-game production. On nine carries, including one non-designed scramble for 21 yards, he picked up just 27 yards. Hoyer clearly does not pose the same running threat Newton does. But if the Patriots offensive line and running back group are as effective as they were a week ago, he won't need to be.

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The good news for the Patriots? The Chiefs have the 30th-ranked run defense in the NFL, per Football Outsiders DVOA, and a game plan similar to theirs from Week 3 -- when Newton completed just three of nine passes targeted 10 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage -- might yield some success.

The bad news? The 35 minutes for which the Patriots held the ball against the Raiders likely won't be enough against the Chiefs. Against an explosive Kansas City offense, and with less firepower at quarterback to come back from a potential deficit, Belichick and McDaniels may have to take their clock-killing -- which guarantee very little against the Chiefs -- to extreme measures. This could be the football version of Dean Smith's four-corners offense at North Carolina.

Playing keep-away

The Patriots' average time of possession per game this season, which ranks 4th in the NFL.
32:43

The Patriots showed just how willing they were to slow down the game against the Chiefs last season. In their regular-season loss at Gillette Stadium to Patrick Mahomes and Co., the Patriots were down double-digits in the second quarter and still melting the play clock all the way to zero before snapping it to Brady.

In the AFC Championship game in January of 2019, the Patriots held the ball for about 21 minutes in the first half in Kansas City and limited Mahomes to just three drives. Is that kind of plan feasible for two halves? (The Chiefs sped the game up in the second half, still ended up with 10 total possessions and scored 31 points before losing in overtime.)

 

The Patriots take their time getting out of the huddle. They'll set themselves up to go for it on fourth down to extend drives by taking a chip-away-at-it approach on third down. They'll have to do all they can to maximize their red-zone possessions by coming away with touchdowns instead of field goals. 

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It's asking a lot. They'll have to accentuate their strengths while understanding their weaknesses. They'll have to shorten the game. That'll start with a run game that could look more like a wide-zone-heavy Shanahan-style scheme -- Hoyer ran that offense under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco -- than the Newton-centered read-option packages that have been prevalent lately.

It'll look different. And whether or not it's actually effective is anyone's guess. But the Patriots will have a plan Monday night. And it looks like it'll be triggered by Hoyer.