Next Man Up
Bill Belichick has always been a big proponent of the “next man up” philosophy. That is, he prides himself on having as deep and prepared a roster as possible because—let’s face it—this is the NFL and things don’t always go according to plan. Players get hurt or fall victim to a witch hunt surrounding ball pressure. Stuff happens.
This philosophy has worked well over the past 15 years as key players seem to get hurt every single year. Although injuries are bound to happen and already have this season to Gronk, Dion Lewis, Vollmer, and Hightower, the biggest issue during the first four games is not having QB1. However, Garoppolo seemed to leave the Patriots in good hands, which is another example of Belichick always having a good backup.
In fact, Jimmy came out on fire, throwing three touchdown passes in the first half. But late in the second half, he escaped the rush to complete a pass to Malcolm Mitchell before being hit and landing hard on his right shoulder. Suddenly, Patriots fans started to ask themselves, “how much depth is enough depth?” as the lone quarterback left on the depth chart, rookie Jacoby Brissett, jogged out for his first NFL snaps.
The cushion seemed to be enough and it was (barely) enough for the inexperienced Brissett to lead the Patriots to a win and a 2-0 record.
To be fair, the loss in momentum and large lead is more on the defense than on Brissett. However, if the injury to Garoppolo sidelines him for some time, then the answer to whether or not the Patriots have enough depth at quarterback will be an emphatic “no.”
As fun as the idea is of Julian Edelman playing quarterback all week in practice—although I bet Belichick has had him doing that since training camp—this team’s chances of winning get slimmer and slimmer the further down the depth chart they are forced to go at the QB position, which is arguably the least interchangeable position in sports.
The Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround is also, arguably, one of the hardest turnarounds in sports, especially when you need time for your second-string quarterback to heal. The bottom line is that, assuming Garoppolo can’t play, Jacoby Brissett will be facing a much better team on just three days of preparation and without a 24-point cushion and one half to protect it.
We better hope Jimmy can make a fast recovery…
Game Balls To…LeGarrette Blount and Martellus Bennett
As I said before, down the stretch it was the defense and not Jacoby Brissett who put the game in question. Although Brissett wasn’t helping much on the offensive side, he wasn’t making grave mistakes either, which is all you can expect from a quarterback as inexperienced as he is.
In the meantime, as the defense fell apart and the offense looked for a way to keep moving the ball with QB3, it was LeGarrette Blount and Martellus Bennett who stepped up big time.
Once Garoppolo went down, the offensive focus shifted noticeably away from the passing game to the running game, where Blount got nearly all of the carries. As the offensive workhorse, Blount rushed for 123 yards and one touchdown on 29 carries. Particularly down the stretch, Blount came up with some big carries to extend drives and keep the clock moving. Most notable of these was his long run down the sideline in which he hurdled Byron Maxwell, who seemed to go pretty high on the hit. That’s right: a 250-pound man jumped over a 6’1” man.
Even when he wasn’t jumping over defenders, Blount was especially effective rushing on the outside against the Dolphins, which is of course partly a credit to the offensive line for being able to seal the edge.
One of the blockers often on the edge was tight end Martellus Bennett, who has been a real asset on the line. However, today he showed off an additional skill set that fans may have been waiting to see: his pass-catching ability.
In all, he had five receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown. Those are numbers Patriots fans have become accustomed to seeing from Rob Gronkowksi, who still has yet to play due to an injury. With this kind of production from Bennett already, both blocking and receiving, it truly will be scary for opposing defenses when they have to defend both him and Gronk.
Thursday Night Football
As I said before, there probably hasn’t been a worse time for the Patriots to play a Thursday night game. Aside from the fact that The Crusader comes out on Friday, a day after the game, it definitely doesn’t leave enough time for Jimmy to heal—I can’t think of many injuries with a healing time of three days, unfortunately—and probably doesn’t leave enough time for Jacoby to get enough more reps with the first team or for a newly-signed quarterback to learn the system. In any case, most people optimistically predicted the Patriots to go 3-1 without Brady, and this could end up being the one loss.
Then again, Belichick has surprised us again and again and maybe he will be able to do it again at home against his former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. Next man up. Again.