Friday, August 14, 2015

Bare Bones Patriots Offense Limits Garoppolo In Loss To Packers

A football riddle: What do you get when you combine a second-year quarterback with a patchwork and inexperienced offensive line, no pass catchers of any consequence and a game plan that eschews balance in favor of putting said young quarterback squarely in the sites of the opposing pass rush?

The answer? The football equivalent of a firing squad.

Sans, of course, the blindfold and cigarette for New England Patriots' quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who on Thursday evening was was seriously menaced by the pass rush of the Green Bay Packers, sacked seven times and hit upon release another half dozen times as the Patriots were throttled by the Packers by a 22-11 count in the first preseason game for each at Gillette Stadium.

That said, New England head ball coach Bill Belichick got exactly what he wanted out of the encounter on both sides of the ball.

So did the casual milk-drinking crowd, who watched Garoppolo follow up a dismal first half by searing the Packers' secondary early in the second half with short timing throws, targeting newcomers Brandon Gibson and Chris Harper in the soft spots of Green Bay's underneath zone, and finding second-year passing back James White on chip-and-release safety valve dump offs - at one point completing 9 consecutive passes.

Green Bay adjusted on the next series by sending blitz after blitz, overwhelming his already shaky protection - a tactic that they employed the rest of the game, giving Garoppolo a brutal beating in the process.

The whiskey drinkers, on the other hand, didn't get much value out of the offense, aesthetically speaking. The mix-matched offensive line had few bright spots as a unit, though rookies left guard Shaq Mason and center David Andrews had some highlight reel stuff in the run game, an area of the game was vastly underused.

Mason pulled out to the right to seal the linebackers, helping to spring Jonas Gray for his 55 yard touchdown rumble, but the rest of the night saw the running game pick up a meager 39 yards on 17 carries, accounting for less than 2.3 yards per carry - and given that the Patriots put the ball in the air twice as many times, it stands to figure that there could have been more balance to keep the Packers' defense honest and give Garoppolo an extra split second to find his reads.

Of course, Garoppolo's struggles were magnified by the uncertainty revolving around starter Tom Brady and his availability for the season opener, but there were mitigating factors  that contributed to the erratic showing.

For instance, in the season opener, Garoppolo would have had a reasonable facsimile of an offensive line instead of the jigsaw puzzle he played behind on Thursday night, and his pass catchers would have included veterans Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson, not to mention tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler.

The plan all along seemed to be a concerted effort to get the ball to receiver Josh Boyce, whom Belichick mentioned has had a good camp, but in targeting the speedster out of Texas Christian, Garoppolo was either forcing balls into tight windows or trying to drop deep balls into a bucket, but his throws were hindered by Boyce's inability to gain separation despite his 4.38 speed, overthrowing the third-year receiver twice...

...then adjusting to make up for Boyce's apparent lack of a second gear and under throwing him twice, turning Boyce into a cornerback, where he did a nice job of breaking up two sure interceptions.

All told, Garoppolo was 20 of 30 for 159 yards and a miserable 5.3 yards per attempt, but take away his misconnections with Boyce and he was a solid gold 18 of 19 for 140 yards for a more respectable 7.3 yards per attempt, which is better even than what Brady put up last season.

The running game struggled due to the fact that virtually every call went to the left, especially with White carrying the ball as they tried to get the corner, but the plays were slow in developing behind reserve Chris Barker and eligible tackle Jordan Devey and the Packers were able to string out the play and bring White down short of the line on three different occasions.

The run was much more effective going straight into the teeth of the Packers' 3-4 front but, again, there just weren't enough running plays called to make the defense respect the run, particularly in the second half when there were only four running plays called.

In effect, the Patriots held what can only be described as a live scrimmage against a Green Bay defense that had it's collective ears pinned back and dictated to the predictable New England play calling.

Next: Breaking down the Patriots' defensive effort vs. Green Bay

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