TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Kevin Minter stood in front of his locker this week trying to come up with all the ways New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been a challenge to prepare for.
Here’s what Minter knows about Garoppolo: He’s accurate, he’s a mobile quarterback and he’s athletic.
Beyond that, Minter and the Cardinals don’t know what else to expect out of Garoppolo or the Patriots’ offense on Sunday night.
“We really don’t know exactly what he’s going to do,” Minter said. “The only action you’ve really seen him in is preseason -- and it’s preseason, you know?
“He could be amazing. He could be mediocre. He could be whatever. So, we’re preparing for everything.”
Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher estimated Garoppolo has played about 250 snaps in his three years with the Patriots -- regular season and preseason combined. The Cardinals, coach Bruce Arians said, have studied every one of them.
But it’s still not enough -- basically the equivalent to three or four full games -- to glean any tendencies, especially since just 78 of them came during the regular season. And of those, 18 were in the third quarter and 60 were in the fourth quarter, 30 of which came in wins.
Without a significant amount of tape on Garoppolo, the Cardinals have been working overtime to prepare for any possible scenario the Patriots’ offense may throw at them.
“The way we look at things, we put (the offense) in tool boxes,” Bettcher said. “Here’s what they do when two tight ends are in the game. Here’s when one tight end is in the game. Here’s the different looks you’re going to get out of those personnel groupings. We prepare that way.”
Bettcher said the Cardinals will reassess and focus their defensive game plan after the first quarter based on what the Patriots ran in the first 15 minutes.
Minter said Arizona has been scheming for what the Patriots have done offensively in the past under Tom Brady, as well as for what they could potentially do with Garoppolo, who is more mobile than Brady. Cornerback Patrick Peterson expects more rollouts and bootlegs from Garoppolo, who will put more pressure on Arizona’s defensive line to set the edges. The five-time Pro Bowler also said Arizona is preparing for trick plays and “triple passes.”
“We have to be alert for all the gimmicks, because at the end of the day, these guys, they feel like they have an opportunity to win, but coming in against us, they have the mentality of ‘We don’t have anything to lose,’” Peterson said. “So we have to make sure we’re on our keys and make sure we understand where the ball is on the field, we understand down and distance, because this team is a very disciplined football team and they want on you to make a mistake and capitalize on it.”
Arians, however, believes the offense Garoppolo will lead Sunday night will land somewhere between what Brady has run recently and what Garoppolo ran in the preseason.
Arizona has turned to former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, who is now an outside linebacker with the Cardinals, for any advice on Garoppolo. He’s helped where he could, but said he’s seen an improved Garoppolo on tape.
“He’s definitely faster than Tom Brady,” Jones said. “That’s something you have count to on this game, someone who can run the ball, something more difficult for defensive ends like me.”
Despite the preseason’s reputation for featuring bland and vanilla offenses, the Cardinals have been playing up Garoppolo’s preseason performance this year, during which he completed 66.7 percent of his passes. Arians thinks the Patriots will alter their scheme a bit to fit Garoppolo, but generally, he expects the Garoppolo-led offensive to look similar to the Brady-led offensive.
“He doesn’t have any bad plays,” Arians said. “He’s a quality guy. He’s been in the system, and it’s not like he’s a rookie.”
What the Cardinals have seen on tape from Garoppolo this preseason is a poised, accurate quarterback who Minter said was hitting his receivers “on a dime” and who found a rhythm with the Patriots’ offense. Minter remembered the hype surrounding Garoppolo when he was came out of Eastern Illinois in 2014 and saw some flashes of his talent on the film this week.
But, Minter assured, the Cardinals aren’t nervous about facing Garoppolo. They just won’t take him lightly, he said.
“He’s good at his timing, him and his receivers,” Minter said. “You’d think Tom was back there at times. Obviously he’s young and he might mess up here and there, but for the most part the guy can play.
“We’re not going into this game underestimating him at all.”