The New England Patriots Have a Quarterback Decision Worth Discussing

With a short turnaround for Week 3, should the Patriots start Jacoby Brissett or an injured Jimmy Garoppolo?

The New England Patriots have a decision to make at quarterback.

Don’t worry -- it has nothing to do with Tom Brady. Brady’s replacement, Jimmy Garoppolo, left Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins in the second quarter with a sprained right AC joint.

During the game, he was replaced by rookie Jacoby Brissett, who was essentially New England’s third-string quarterback on the depth chart. Brissett was fine after he came in, but New England threw only nine passes with the rookie in, though he completed 6 of them for 92 yards.

While Garoppolo was in the game, New England threw 27 times in just about a full half of play.

The Patriots need to figure out their options at quarterback but don’t have a lot of time because they play on Thursday night against the Houston Texans.

What should they do?

Grasping the Offense

Typically when a quarterback injuries anything to do with his throwing arm, he’ll miss some time, especially if the next game is coming in just four days. But there’s some sense around the Patriots that Garoppolo might be able to take the field on Thursday.

On Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported the Patriots believe there’s a chance Garoppolo can tolerate the pain in his shoulder to play against the Texans. Later that morning, head coach Bill Belichick stated “everyone” would be at New England’s practice on Tuesday, which would essentially be a walkthrough.

It’s understandable why the Patriots would want to get Garoppolo in the game if he can go because of how good has performed in his limited time this season.

By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric -- which measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to perform, according to historical data -- he’s been the best in the league.

Now this doesn’t mean Garoppolo is the best quarterback in the NFL -- this is only based on his 62 drop backs thus far -- but he does lead the league in Passing NEP per drop back through the season’s first two games. His 0.49 tally is just above Matt Ryan at 0.47. Carson Palmer at 0.41 is the only other quarterback above 0.40.

New England has gone a great job tailoring the offense for Garoppolo to succeed, but he’s also executed about as well as the team could have hoped. Many of Garoppolo’s throws are quick-hitters on things like slants to the wide receivers, but they’re in a place where there are yards to be gained with each play.

They aren’t quick outlet passes gaining three to five yards per play -- they’re going for gains of eight or more. That makes a big difference.

He’s also showing some poise not always seen by first-time starters. Watch him step up in the pocket for his first touchdown pass to Danny Amendola against Miami. (Video courtesy NFL Game Pass.)

Once Brissett came in, the Patriots still managed to move the ball, but it was a little different. The slants working the middle of the field weren’t called as often, and the passing offense was more based on screens and swing passes.

It worked fine against the Dolphins, though Brissett’s Passing NEP per drop back was just 0.10, which currently ranks 24th among 36 quarterbacks with at least 10 drop backs this season. Brissett’s play was passable against the Dolphins with a 21-point lead when he entered the game, but the Texans are going to be a different story.

A Tough Opponent

Complicating matters is how good the Texans defense has been so far this season. Through two weeks, they’re the top unit by Adjusted Defensive NEP per play and second individually against the run and the pass. This isn’t exactly a small sample issue, either -- the Texans have been a good defense for quite some time. In three of the past four seasons, Houston has finished the year in the top five in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. Last season, they were third.

This is really where the big decision comes for the Patriots. Is it worth putting Garoppolo back in at not 100 percent and risk him getting hit by the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus? Or would it be more dangerous to put a rookie quarterback making his first career start opposite that defensive line?

What to Do?

The question could come down to how important a win is for the Patriots. As terrible as it sounds, risking Garoppolo to an extended injury really only impacts Week 4’s game against the Buffalo Bills, who are a mess. After that, Tom Brady’s suspension is over, and he comes back as the starter.

New England will enter the game with a 75.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to our odds. Most thought the Patriots would be lucky enough to get through the four games without Brady at 2-2, but they already have those two wins through two games. Maybe the Patriots feel like they can take a chance with the rookie to ensure Garoppolo has another week to heal and can be healthy as a backup for the remainder of the season.

Or maybe the Patriots really want to go 4-0 without Brady to make their path to the playoffs as simple as possible. It's also fair to wonder how much of a drop-off Brissett is from a not-100-percent Garoppolo. We don't have enough information to know, which is what makes New England's next move so interesting.

There’s a significant question facing the Patriots at quarterback for Thursday’s game. It’s going to be one of the hardest ones they face for the rest of the season.