Jimmy Garoppolo’s Debut Against the Arizona Cardinals

Coming off an inconsistent preseason, Jimmy Garoppolo entered Week 1 of the NFL season with a tough assignment: facing the Arizona Cardinals defense. To the surprise of many, he exceeded expectations and put on an impressive performance. Dan Syed turns to the tape to see how the quarterback led the New England Patriots to victory. 

This preseason I paid special attention to Jimmy Garoppolo, breaking down his performances against New Orleans and Chicago. Week 1 at Arizona was the moment Patriots fans had all been waiting for; without Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and multiple starting offensive linemen, Garoppolo put on an impressive performance leading the Patriots to a 23-21 win. Let’s break down his performance.

After missing high on his first pass, Garoppolo’s accuracy was solid throughout the remainder of the night. He made several throws that highlighted his accuracy. On a 3rd down in the first quarter, Garoppolo puts the ball in just about the only place where James White can make a play for the first down.

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Another impressive facet of Jimmy Garoppolo’s debut was his quick release and ability to change arm angles, both of which are essential for high-level QB play in the NFL. Here, he has a free rusher coming toward him but is able to quickly get the ball out accurately at a lowered arm angle.

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Garoppolo’s ability to work through progressions, along with his mental processing continue to be his most impressive traits. The Patriots were 10 for 16 on third down, and Garoppolo’s ability to stay cool in the cauldron, work progressions, and understand the coverage was a big reason why. Garoppolo had success early in the game when Arizona was mostly playing man-to-man, but continued making positive plays when the Cardinals switched to zone coverages.


Here, on a 3rd and 10 on the first drive of the game, Garoppolo quickly identifies that Julian Edelman will be open based on Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell’s routes clearing out their respective defenders.

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Later in the first quarter, he recognizes man-to-man coverage almost immediately and delivers a first-down throw.

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Young quarterbacks often miss open receivers because of their inability to read a defense correctly or go through their progressions. Here, once Garoppolo sees the single high safety stay in the middle of the field at the beginning of his three-step drop, he knows he’s going to have Chris Hogan on a fade covered by a rookie cornerback. He certainly gets lucky on the blown coverage, but reading the defense properly allows him to take advantage of the situation with great timing.

When the Cardinals blitzed Garoppolo, he was able to recognize where the best single coverage matchup was and deliver an accurate throw –like on this throw to Mitchell’s outside shoulder – allowing him to turn over and grab the ball for a huge gain. Here, the Cardinals blitz several secondary defenders on a 3rd and 7. This is a great example of his mental processing and progression traits to find the right matchup along with pinpoint accuracy; if the ball is a foot inside, the DB likely breaks up the pass:

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The QB’s mobility and improvisational skills also came through in two other key spots. First, with the Patriots facing a 3rd and 6 to start the second half, Garoppolo recognizes the coverage, vacates, avoids the rush, and shows that he has the speed to get away from front-seven defenders for a gain of 10 and a first down.

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Next, in perhaps the most important play of the game, Garoppolo takes a broken play and turns it into a huge gain for the Patriots. Down 21-20 with 3rd and 15 from his own 20, the Patriots call a fake tunnel screen with verticals behind it. Because they run so many short bubble and tunnel screens, the play is designed to get defenders to come up trying to make a tackle and throwing it over them for a big play. Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals secondary doesn’t bite on the fake on third and long. Garoppolo buys some time in the pocket and allows Amendola to work across the field to an open space. He takes a big hit but delivers a perfect strike for a huge third-down conversion and a 32-yard gain on a drive that eventually results in the game-winning field goal.


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Of course, Garoppolo didn’t play a perfect game. He fumbled once and held on to the ball a little too long at times. He’ll still be confused by some defensive looks going forward and will make a head-scratching decision here and there (like the decision to catch his own deflected pass). That being said, given the circumstances and spotlight, Garoppolo played extremely well and earned a solid “A” for his first career start and win.

Follow Dan on Twitter @syedschemes

Daniel Syed is a lawyer and coach, who enjoys breaking down X’s and O’s. He has written about passing concepts for the ITP Glossary, Hail Mary attempts, and making adjustments at the line.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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