Contrary to what some in the media would like you to believe there is not going to be a quarterback controversy in Foxborough five weeks from now. If this preseason has shown anything it’s that the gap between Tom Brady and Jimmy Garappolo is still massive. This is not to take anything away from Jimmy, he’s looked good at times, but I think we set the expectations too high, which is understandable given the fact that we have watched the greatest quarterback of all time for the last 15 years.
I will be the first to say that Tom Brady should not have played on Friday in Charlotte, but his performance was telling. Jimmy started the game as he should have and looked like a deer in the headlights, now that he was actually facing an elite defense. Tom Brady came in and was certainly far from perfect, but the difference between the two players was obvious from the start. On Brady’s first pass, the 37 yarder to Aaron Dobson he recognized the blitz and decided that instead of giving the play fake to the running back he would skip that to have time to be able to throw the ball. This is a subtle play that probably goes unnoticed to a lot of people watching, but it’s the difference between a completion and a sack or a poor throw. Plays like this have gotten Garappolo in trouble throughout the preseason, one that particularly stands out was the throw against the Saints where he felt the pressure rolled out to his left and threw across his body to Dobson, miraculously the ball was not picked, but he cannot make mistakes like this once the regular season starts.
One thing I really wanted to see on Friday was the chemistry between Garappolo and Julian Edelman, unfortunately I came away disappointed. The Patriots passing game is very reliant on option routes, and no one is better at running them than Edelman. Option routes require the quarterback and the receiver to be seeing the same things from the defense. On the drive that led to Gostkowski’s first missed field goal, Edelman and Garappolo were clearly not seeing the same thing. There was a third down play with Edelman in the slot, he ran a five yard route to the sticks and sat because Luke Keuchly was sitting in zone coverage in the middle of the field. Receivers are taught to sit when you have a defender inside you. Garappolo expected Edelman to continue on his route and threw the ball right into the chest of Keuchly, who luckily dropped it. That play is the difference between first and goal, and a missed field goal, and cannot happen in the regular season.
With all of this being said, I actually still think the team and Jimmy are going to be just fine in the first four games. Just as Charlie Weis did with Brady when he first took over for Bledsoe, Josh McDaniels will protect him and not ask him to do too much. Jimmy has looked very comfortable when he gets the ball out quickly, and that’s exactly what the team will try to do. Expect a ton of quick developing routes and crossing patterns with Edelman and the tightends to allow Jimmy to make his reads without holding the ball for too long. LaGarrette Blount has also looked like his old self this preseason and if that continues it will be a huge asset since having a strong running game will take a ton of pressure of Garappolo.
Even if Garappolo struggles the Patriots should still be fine. This defense is one of the top five defenses in the league and should be able to carry the team if need be. The looks they gave against Carolina on Friday night were kryptonite for Cam Newton, who looked awful all night. If they can do that do the reigning MVP I expect them to cause problems for a lot of teams this season. If the Patriots have to win games 17-10 I have full confidence that they will be able to do it.