Friday, August 8, 2014

Mallett's limitations trumped by Garoppolo's potential; Patriots find a "Gamer"

Assessing a team's overall performance in the first preseason game is akin to going on a blind date: You spend most of your time trying to get to know the other person, then when it's over you sit in the car wondering if you want a handshake or a kiss.

For certain, the New England Patriots' Thursday night loss to the Washington Redskins gave us every reason to drop them off with a quick handshake and a hollow promise to call them later, at least on a superficial level - but once home and weighing the pros and cons, you realize the date that started out shockingly bad actually ended on a high note.
When Mallett can't step into his throws, trouble ensues

So maybe the promise to call them for another date wasn't so hollow after all.

We weren't catching the Patriots at their best, and we had a pretty good idea what we were getting ourselves into from everything that our "friends" were trying to tell us about them, but from our own research and observing our date from afar, we form our own expectations, setting our standards low or high, depending on our degree of desperation.

It didn't help that after six months of no football we were about as desperate as one could get, and knowing that since the Patriots would be resting mostly all of their starters we wouldn't be getting a super model, our standards were set pretty low.

Even so, no one expected this date to be so offensive, as it were.

The concern with Ryan Mallett is not so much that he makes the wrong decisions or can't make all the throws that an NFL quarterback should be able to make, it's that unless he has a clean pocket, those traits disintegrate.

While it's true that the offensive line did him no favors, it is equally true that he needs the radius of the Grand Canyon to step into his throws, or he gets very little on them.  To be fair, when he can step into his throws, he has an absolute cannon - but how often in the course of a game can a quarterback count on a clean pocket?

Obviously, Mallett is a scout team quarterback that can prepare defensive backs like it's nobody's business, but is inconsistent and harried when faced with a live rush - much more so than rookie Jimmy Garappolo, who actually looked like the more seasoned signal caller on Thursday night.

Forget the stats, the exorbitantly high expectations for Mallett and the abysmally low expectations for Garoppolo, the fact is that one quarterback dealt with the pressure and the collapsing pocket and made the plays in spite of it all, and one was a stationary target worthy of a blindfold and a cigarette.
Garoppolo was pressured, but showed natural playmaking ability

The offensive line was as disheveled as one could expect from a unit pieced together with ambiguity at the pivot and players not starting in their preferred position. - all except for Nate Solder, who looked lost in the carnage that was the natural result of unfamiliar pieces lumped together in a zone blocking scheme.

A zone blocking scheme relies on synchronicity on the part of all members of the line, and if even one player makes the wrong decision or loses his battle, it's usually a fail for the entire unit - and the quarterback pays the price...

...or the running backs, because when a team with capable backs like the Patriots have average only 2.3 yards per carry against an average defensive line in Washington, the most likely culprit is consistently missed assignments along the offensive line - which is bound to happen with a mixed and matched unit.

The best run the Patriots had all night was a scramble by Garoppolo.

That said, Solder had a time with Washington weakside linebacker Brian Orakpo, being called for a holding penalty and giving up a sack, but that had more to do with Mallett being pressured from the strong side and forced to step up in the pocket, where Solder had Orakpo locked in a stalemate until Mallett ran right into him.
Solder had Orakpo locked up, but backside pressure forced Mallet to step up

When the ball did come out of the pocket cleanly - as when Mallett had a clean pocket and when Garoppolo was in the game - the pass catchers were tremendous.

Brian Tyms was fantastic, Garoppolo's pretty deep ball consistently finding him in stride, causing the Boston beat writers to proclaim them "Brady to Moss, Part Deux" - and while those cats were either starting overreaction Friday an bit early or were hitting the sauce at halftime, it was a sight to behold.

Brandon Lafell showed sure hands and Josh Boyce had a decent game as well, while James Develin showed the world why he has been working out with the tight ends during camp, his soft hands, quick pivot to turn upfield and desire to finish the play demonstrated on one powerful catch and run.

Overall, the Patriots' offense looked like a unit that had been together for just a short time - because they had - but the biggest disappointment transformed into the most pleasant surprise, as Mallett's ineffectiveness under duress was trumped by Garoppolo's poise and playmaking ability...

...which hadn't shown up in practice, but as we noted in the game preview, some guys are workout warriors and some are "Gamers" - and on Thursday night, we discovered who was who.

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