When it was announced that Tom Brady would not play in the first week of the 2014 NFL preseason, all eyes immediately shifted on backup QB Ryan Mallett. Many fans of the New England Patriots expected him to look like a star on Thursday night, completing nearly every pass and showing that he can be a legitimate starter in the league. What they got instead was a player who struggled a bit, completing just 5-of-12 passes for 55 yards in the game.
Despite how putrid those numbers look, there were many factors that contributed to his poor outing. First of all, he played behind an offensive line that was missing many key starters. While Nate Solder played LT, the rest of the offensive line was patched together with Jordan Devey at LG, Dan Connolly at C, Josh Kline at RG and Marcus Cannon at RT. Logan Mankins and Ryan Wendell, two starters along last year’s offensive line, did not play in the game.
To make matters worse, the Patriots’ backup offensive line faced the Washington Redskins‘ starting defensive line for much of the first half. Mallett had the misfortune of having to face both Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan for most of the night. That is a tough enough challenge to face when your offensive line is good. Having several backups on the line, it made Mallett’s job virtually impossible. He had pressure in his face almost all night and was sacked once.
There was also a penalty called against the New England offense that really hurt him. On a 3rd-and-8 play early on, Mallett connected with Brandon LaFell on a nice 15-yard pass play only for it to be negated by a Solder holding call. Had that play been converted, it would have been a first down. Instead, the Patriots ended up punting after the very next play.
While Mallett did miss some throws, he really was set up to fail in this game. Jimmy Garoppolo, meanwhile, looked much better than him in the game. What you have to realize though is that he played against third-string defenders, more importantly against a third-string defensive line. Mallett did not have that luxury.
It is difficult to determine if his struggles Thursday night will carry over to the future, but one thing is certain; he didn’t play as poorly Thursday as it looks like he did, or at the very least, his struggles weren’t squarely on his shoulders.
When he had time, he made the throws and looked poised in the pocket. The problem is, just like any other QB in the league, when you have a collapsed pocket, you are going to struggle. That is exactly what happened to Mallett on Thursday.
Much improvement still needs to be made, but there is no reason to overreact to one subpar preseason performance, especially when the Pats were clearly overmatched from the start in every phase of the game. He will never look that bad again if he is running an offense behind a starting-caliber offensive line.