Garrett Grayson Upstages Jimmy Garoppolo in Preseason Debut
Jimmy Garoppolo failed to flourish on Thursday night. Garoppolo started the New England Patriots’ first preseason game and played the whole first half without Tom Brady watching on from the sidelines. Brady was absent to attend to a family matter, though it was unclear if he would have played regardless.
As he had done in previous years, Garoppolo showed off a slow process, a week arm, poor ball placement and an aversion to pressure.
Backup quarterbacks are inherently flawed. It’s why they are backup quarterbacks in the first place. The rational hope for Garoppolo on Thursday wasn’t that he would light up the New Orleans Saints first-team defense and show off a skill set that would allow him to challenge Brady for the full-time job. The rational hope was that Garoppolo would flash his potential in spurts or show off clearly defined strengths that Bill Belichick could craft an offense around.
Garoppolo did neither of those things.
Garrett Grayson did though.
The New Orleans Saints backup quarterback was an afterthought in this game. So much so that at least one Saints beat writer was talking about how Garoppolo, not Grayson, could be Drew Brees’ successor. Either player replicating what Drew Brees has done is implausible. Either player becoming a good NFL starter is even unlikely, very unlikely. For one night at least, Grayson showed that he is closer to beating the odds than his counterpart in Boston.
Like I said, backup quarterbacks are inherently flawed. Grayson proved that with his very first pass attempt. Drew Brees had opened the game as the Saints starter, playing the first drive that was ended prematurely by a Mark Ingram fumble. When Grayson came in at the start of the second drive the Patriots still had their first-team defense in.
Grayson predetermined his throw based on his pre-snap read and in doing so led multiple defenders to the receiver he was trying to find. Not only did he make a mental error on this play, his pass was poorly placed. This wasn’t the case of his receiver not running his route through or his receiver tipping a ball he should have caught, Grayson was completely at fault for this interception.
The speed of the defense is notable on this play and it’s a good gauge for evaluating a young quarterback. The safety flew to the ball and Jamie Collins read the play before using his athleticism to put himself in position for the interception. In preseason football, defenses don’t always play with this kind of speed so mistakes aren’t capitalized on.
Grayson responded well on the following drive. A Mark Ingram run and a screen set up a quick Third-and-7 where the former third-round pick threw a well-timed pass on an out route to Coby Fleener for a first down. His pass was slightly too high but the timing meant that the defensive back covering Fleener had no chance of getting to it. Two runs and a penalty ended that drive.
On the following drive, Grayson only threw one pass before the Saints scored. he checked the ball down to John Kuhn in the flat after leaving the pocket. He showed off good poise on that play, but his poise was exemplified better during the final drive of the first quarter.
A big issue with Garoppolo is how he doesn’t move his eyes and his feet when he’s in the pocket. Or at least how inconsistent he is in doing so. Grayson isn’t under severe pressure on this play but his timing and footwork are good, allowing him to come off his first read and find his uncovered checkdown in the opposite flat for a first down.
This speed of action is something that Grayson put on show throughout the first half.
In the second quarter, Grayson offered up another example of his poise in the pocket. On this occasion the design of the play is quickly destroyed by pressure in the pocket. He is confronted by a defender who was essentially unblocked. Although he drops his eyes, he does so to square off against the defender before juking him, an action made out of necessity.
His initial elusiveness and awareness on this play was nice, but the truly exciting elements came after he left the pocket.
Grayson’s eyes go back up to the coverage once he breaks the pocket. You can see his eyes moving from receiver to receiver as he frantically searches for someone to throw to. While we can’t see if he is making good decisions because there is no All-22 available for these games, the glimpses we get on the broadcast angle suggest that nobody was open. Throwing the ball away in this situation is notable. It’s notable because Grayson could very easily have done something rash after escaping the pocket.
The adrenaline rush that would have kicked in when he was confronted by the defender in the pocket didn’t impact his decision making. That is an important, positive trait for a quarterback.
Poise is a very important attribute for an NFL quarterback because poise plays a huge role in your ability to perform under pressure. Performing under pressure is typically what allows a quarterback to sustain consistency and create big plays. In this game, Grayson had two eye-widening plays, both of which were throws to rookie Michael Thomas.
Jabaal Sheard is going to be a key defender for the Patriots this year. Sheard is Chandler Jones’ natural replacement and the Patriots’ best edge rusher with Rob Ninkovich hurt. On this play, Sheard is able to brush past the Saints right tackle to immediately get in the face of Grayson. Grayson’s process in pocket is quick as he maintains his balance through his dropback while holding his eyes on the safety over the middle of the field.
Grayson needed to be as quick as he was because he just about got the ball away before Sheard hit him. This would have been a difficult throw from a completely clean pocket but Grayson delivers a dime despite the pressure. He puts the ball in a spot where only his receiver can catch it. Thomas initially looks like he didn’t keep his feet inbounds but the play was challenged and ruled a catch.
For his second big-time throw, Grayson wasn’t facing an impending hit but his process in the pocket was again important for getting rid of the ball quickly. He delivered the ball quickly, laying it out in front of Thomas for him to reach for in behind the defensive back. Again, Grayson put the ball in a spot where only his receiver could catch it. Thomas obliged with an impressive reception.
Had the defensive back not interfered with Thomas earlier in the route, this play could have seen Thomas run free down the sideline for a touchdown.
This isn’t a statement game for Grayson or a sign that he will be the next Tyrod Taylor. He wasn’t so spectacular that the Saints can get excited about his future. It was a game that showed off his potential and why Sean Payton has seemingly elevated him ahead of Luke McCown, one of the better backups in the league, to be Drew Brees’ number two.