Jimmy Garoppolo showed more poise in the pocket Saturday night in a win in New Orleans. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
The sight of Jimmy Garoppolo scrambling around in the pocket for his life may not seem like the ideal situation for the Patriots with the prospect of Tom Brady serving a season-opening suspension.
But to Bill Belichck, Garoppolo’s ability to keep a play alive and show he can throw down the field under the gun is exactly what he wanted to see. During his conference call Sunday morning, Belichick explained that the touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the first half to Chris Harper displayed skills that can’t really be replicated in practice.
“Those are the types of plays that, offensively and defensively, we work on in practice. But those scrambles in practice are never quite the same as in the game because you’re not hitting the quarterback and you’re not really trying to get him down and all that,” Belichick said. “It was good to actually come up, where the quarterback does truly have to scramble and avoid pressure, make a decision, get his head up and get the ball down the field. We saw that defensively last week with Aaron Rodgers. He extended a number of plays and then [Saturday] night, Jimmy had a couple, particularly the touchdown right before the half. Again, those are plays we talk a lot about but we can’t really fully execute them like they are in a game, whichever side offense or defense. We need to practice those so it was good that they came up and we certainly teach off those.”
Belichick, a stickler for execution of situational football, was also very pleased with the way his team responded to specific situations. There was the drive that started from the Patriots 20 with 68 seconds left in the first half, ending with a touchdown. There was the heady play by linebacker James Morris to strip the runner of the ball from behind, flipping field position in the third quarter and leading to a touchdown and then there were the final two field goal drives sandwiched around a three-and-out defensive stop to win the game.
“Yeah, absolutely. We know we weren’t playing for the AFC championship but it’s competition and it’s going out there, trying to do well and then play situation football, according to whatever it is, if you’re ahead, you’re behind or you needed a field goal, a touchdown or whatever it is.
Those are all situations that we’ve practiced and worked on. You can’t control those. You don’t know what’s going to happen in a game. You’re ready for, hopefully, whichever ones come up. The ones that came up [Saturday] we worked through. Some of it was what we wanted to do. Some of it we need to go back and talk about and correct, both on the coaching end and on the playing end. There’s a lot of good learning experience for all of us. You just try to take advantage of whichever situations come up and the ones [Saturday] night were a lot of good situational football examples, whether it was trying to score, trying to get the ball back.
There were really three two-minute drives at the end of the [first] half, one that we had we didn’t score on, then one they scored on quickly and then another one we scored on after we got it back after their score. Those were great situations for us to learn from. We practiced them and they came up in the game. Situation football is a big part of the game. It’s not all first-and-10 and second down out in the middle of the field. There are a lot of very specific situations. It was good to have an opportunity to practice some of those and learn from them. Whether the guys that were in there and even for those of us that weren’t, to go through what we want to do and how we want to do it, the real, live situation like that is as good a teaching tool as you can have. No matter how many times you practice it, it’s still more realistic in the game. It was good.”
Here are some other takeaways from Belichick’s conference call Sunday:
On the improvement of Jimmy Garoppolo and the offensive line, which featured left tackle Nate Solder, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, guards Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason and center David Andrews:
“I think we made some improvement from last week offensively, period. And that’s in every area. That was good. We had a good week of practice against the Saints. That was a positive as well. Just the entire week, not just the game [Saturday] night. Everybody is getting a little better, just playing at a little bit higher level, as we should with more practice and more reps, and working together a little bit better. Of course, that’s a big part of the offensive line, is those guys all trying to see the game as one and get all on the same page so that those five guys can properly block the five guys they’re assigned to, which can have a few variations from play to play.
Overall, I thought we made some progress. We certainly have a lot of things to work on, a long way to go. I thought that that group competed well, especially after the slow start we had in the first half really till really late in the second quarter, we weren’t able to do too much. But from that point on, our execution was better, our confidence grew and we were able to be competitive. Those were all positives.”
On the two illegal formation calls on offensive lineman/tight end Cameron Fleming:
“From the assignment and technique standpoint, he’s playing one spot wider than he normally plays at tackle. There’s some adjustment obviously but it’s not really that major of a difference, and he’s handled that well. Going in and out of the game in those situations, that’s just part of what we do with our personnel groups. We do that with our receivers, our backs and he gets involved with that as a lineman when we go to that unit. We’ve done that as far as to increase our depth and flexibility with our formations at the tight end positions, which we’ve been a little thin at.”
On playing a lot of younger players during the game:
“It’s a combination of building depth but also evaluating players that we haven’t seen as much of, particularly in practice. The majority of our practice reps, especially this week, went to players that had had more experience, working with a group that’s a little bit ahead of some of the guys that played.
“Take a look at the guys who didn’t get as many reps in practice, try to get [them] more reps in the game so that’s how we try to balance it out. Part of it’s depth and part of it is straight out evaluation, trying to figure out what’s the best way to put this team together.”