Film Room: Tom Brady

Film Room: Tom Brady
Film Room: Tom Brady
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Cian Fahey

This should be Tom Brady's greatest season.

That statement alone is powerful. In the context of his career, it's almost unfathomable.

Brady is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Fame player. His average season would be the career year for 90 percent of the quarterbacks to ever play the game. In just his second season, he won the Super Bowl. In his fourth and fifth, he won back-to-back Super Bowls. No player had ever achieved that kind of feat at the position he plays. He hasn't won another Super Bowl since his fifth season, but he has made two more trips. One of those trips came after a 16-0 regular season and a record-setting 50 touchdown passes. That season started a streak where five straight Brady seasons (skipping his injured 2008) rank among the top ten quarterback seasons since 1989 according to Football Outsiders' DYAR stats.

Competing for Brady's best season isn't like competing for any average quarterback's best season, but the pieces are there to make a case for 2013.

As a team, the New England Patriots have locked up a playoff spot and the AFC East crown with a week to spare. This is nothing new for the franchise during the Bill Belichick-Brady era. Victory is sweeter this season because it wasn't as much of a given as it has been in previous years. Miami's offseason was spent acquiring assets to make an assault on the regular AFC East champions, while New England's was spent losing pieces from past successes.

Key cogs from the previous season's offense departed in the offseason. Receiver Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency. Tight end Aaron Hernandez was embroiled in a murder investigation that led the Patriots to let him go. Running back Danny Woodhead signed with the San Diego Chargers in free agency, and receiver Brandon Lloyd was also released for financial reasons. Rob Gronkowski's status was unclear, as he endured surgery after surgery that would cause him to miss the start of the season. When Gronkowski did return during the season, it wasn't for long -- he suffered a torn ACL a few weeks later. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer suffered a similar injury that landed him on IR for the year a few weeks earlier.

The Patriots signed Danny Amendola to replace Welker and added a number of rookie receivers to ease the impact of the veteran losses. Amendola missed a lot of time with injury though, and the rookie receivers couldn't replace the proven veterans. Shane Vereen, who was expected to replace Woodhead as the receiving back, landed on short-term IR, leaving Julian Edelman as Brady's most reliable weapon. Even though Edelman had entered free agency last spring and found little interest, he has played consistently excellent football for the Patriots.

Brady was going to have to make up for a lot on the offensive side of the ball entering the year, and was tasked to do even more as potential solutions continued to crash and burn. Then came the defensive depletions. Defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly both landed on IR. The team's best linebacker, Jerod Mayo, also landed on IR during the season, while free agent addition Adrian Wilson never played a snap at safety because of an apparent torn Achilles.

Although quarterback wins are a flawed measure of a quarterback's success, there is a logical argument that can be made to suggest that this is Brady's greatest season because of the turmoil the team has overcome. Unfortunately for him, the tape doesn't back up that statement. Brady hasn't elevated his individual performance on the field. Instead, he appears to be finally fading from the pedestal where he sits among the best quarterbacks in the league.

Brady's season can be broken down into three sections.

Each of these passing charts reflects Brady's accuracy on a given pass rather than whether the pass was caught or not. This means that there is a premium placed on ball placement. Notably, any plays that appeared to be miscommunications were not marked off as inaccurate passes. This gives Brady the benefit of the doubt and lessens the impact of his supporting cast. As it turned out, the idea of struggling receivers was overblown. There weren't many plays that needed to be marked off because the receiver was out of position; instead there were a number of accurate passes that should have been caught. Those passes were still marked down as accurate on the above passing charts.

His performance hasn't wavered dramatically from week-to-week or section-to-section, but he has improved somewhat from his early season struggles. However, the problem is Brady's improvement is only enough to elevate him from average quarterback play to above-average quarterback play. He hasn't been one of the best in the league this year.

The first thing that stands out on the charts above is Brady's deep accuracy. Although he excelled with Randy Moss during his prime, there wasn't a huge amount of accuracy required when throwing the ball to Moss. Now that he has smaller receivers who can't create the same separation as Moss, it would make sense that his accuracy throwing the ball deep would decline. This would be an acceptable excuse, but Brady's receivers getting open hasn't been the issue.

On each of these plays, Brady has plenty of time in the pocket and his receivers are already in stride when he releases the ball. He doesn't have to decipher the coverage or throw with anticipation, so timing is less of an issue. Furthermore, he isn't throwing to rookies, as his receivers are Edelman, Vereen and Amendola. Amendola is the only new receiver of the trio and he had five yards behind the secondary on this play. Instead of laying the ball out for Amendola to run underneath it, the trajectory Brady put on the ball forced Amendola to try and make a one-handed catch with just his fingertips while fully extended.

There were times when his receivers didn't create any separation and Brady forced the ball to them, but there were also times when his accuracy was so poor that the ball landed out of bounds before the receiver had any chance of making even a spectacular catch.

Overall, Brady's accuracy has been inconsistent. He still possesses the ability to fit the ball into tight windows for stretches, but he often asked a lot of his receivers with bad ball placement even when he wasn't under pressure. Those poor passes weren't of a high degree of difficulty either, as he threw too many screen passes behind receivers or to underneath routes that took his receivers directions that they shouldn't have been going.

Maybe most worryingly for the Patriots, Brady's struggles this season weren't in just one facet of the game. If he had one clear problem, such as his deep accuracy, Belichick could build an offense that hid his weaknesses and played to his strengths. Instead, Brady has suffered a smaller, but notable drop-off in multiple aspects of his play.

He still has excellent mechanics and the ability to throw with outstanding velocity. It's his inconsistency throwing the ball and his inconsistency managing the pocket that has hurt him. He's still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL at manipulating the pocket, but he appears to be less willing to take hits and less aware of the field around him.

A large number of Brady's sacks could have been avoided with better vision to see open receivers early or with better pocket presence from the quarterback. While this happens to every quarterback in the NFL and Brady will have evaded other sacks with his movement in the pocket, it's atypical of his career for him to have caused so many sacks in a single season. His offensive line isn't as good this year, especially with the various injuries, but Dante Scarnecchia still has them performing as well as most units in the league.

In comparison to previous seasons, there is an all-around lack of sharpness to Brady's play on the field.

Of course, the popular overriding argument is that Brady is a winner and he has repeatedly proven that this season. He has made a number of late comeback attempts, specifically against the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints. But he has also made a number of drive-killing plays at critical points in different games that taints his good work in those situations. In that (in)famous victory over the New Orleans Saints, Brady made two terrible decisions that killed drives with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. He eventually lead the game-winning drive, but not without a lot of help from his defense and the Saints.

The first play was an incompletion -- a pass that Aaron Dobson should have caught. But a drop from the receiver wasn't the only reason the play failed: It was fourth-and-6. The Patriots needed six yards and Brady threw the ball to Dobson just two yards downfield. It was a good decision from the quarterback, because Dobson had a step on the defender and space to run into for the conversion. However, the poor ball placement from Brady forced Dobson to slow down. While he was reacting to the pass, the defender was closing off the separation that was previously there.

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Dobson fails to make the catch, but even if he does, the defender is there to tackle him and take him down short of the first down. If Dobson didn't have to break stride, then the only reason for this play to fail would be a drop. Because Dobson had to break stride, he never had much chance of making the first down anyway. Brady needed to put this ball in front of his receiver. Instead he threw it too low towards his hip.

It's a minor detail, but minor details are huge when you are the quarterback. Minor details are the difference between drives continuing and drives stalling. Between winning and losing.

After this play, the Patriots defense held the Saints to a field goal before Brady heaved a ball down the sideline into double-coverage for an interception. Cautious play-calling gave him a chance to redeem himself, but his decision to heave that pass to Edelman in a situation like this can't simply be ignored. Even Moss probably wouldn't have been able to bail him out on that throw. Brady deserves praise for his successful comebacks, but it's unfair to ignore moments such as these late in games.

He did have many other mistakes late in games that cost him comeback victories. In rain-soaked Cincinnati he badly underthrew down the sideline for a game-sealing interception, on a pass that made little sense. In Miami he did similar against the Dolphins. In Carolina he should have been intercepted when he threw the ball to a defender with 29 seconds left, before he underthrew his final pass on the infamous pass interference/non-pass interference play.

This isn't to say that Brady wasn't let down by his teammates in these situations or other situations throughout the season, but the idea that they are the sole reason for his struggles is simply that: an idea. Looking closer at the film, it's clear that Brady's own decline is the reason he is no longer playing at the historically high levels he established from 2007 through 2012.

It gets overlooked, and the importance of it is played down because of Peyton Manning's success these past two seasons, but Brady will soon be 37 years old. While he hasn't been an oft-punished quarterback during his career in relation to others playing the position, the effects of Father Time do appear to be taking their toll. He still flashes all the physical ability, but a fading physique may be an explanation for his inconsistency as a passer and his growing reluctance to absorb hits in the pocket. Myth and the legend of his career has clouded our perspective, but it's possible that Brady's decline has already begun. Every star fades at some point.

Even the brightest of them all.


45 comments, Last at 01 Feb 2014, 4:40pm

#1 by RickD // Dec 26, 2013 - 12:59pm

Comparison would be useful here. As in: you could post the same charts for Peyton Manning. Or you could compare his completion rate to those of his peers. Or his yards/attempt to those of his peers. Or to his previous years.

What you've given us is a vacuum.

All of the comparisons I mention would do more to make your argument than a few anecdotes about bad passes.

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#2 by Led // Dec 26, 2013 - 1:25pm

I don't understand your objection. According to DVOA (12.5%, 12th in the league), Brady is having by far his worst season since 2003. He's barely completing 60% of his passes (22nd in the league) and his YPA is under 7 (21st). His passer rating is lower than guys like Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford. So whether you're looking at advanced or conventional stats, Brady is having a down year -- for him. There's no reason to state the obvious. The question is whether Brady is still performing at an elite level and being dragged down by a limited supporting cast (as the CW would have it) or whether Brady's own skill level declined this year. That question can only be answered by looking at the tape and the answer can only be communicated in a blog post format with a handful of illustrative examples, which is what we have here.

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#8 by theslothook // Dec 26, 2013 - 2:51pm

I actually agree with RickD on this, without a baseline for other qbs, the chart itself isn't as informative as it could be. I also agree with you, the only way to actually stress the distinction between individual play and team play is to do these kind of examples and subjectivity.

Having watched most of Ne's games and charted a few, his inconsistent accuracy has been surprising, but I wonder how much of it will actually carry over next year. Accuracy I think is also a result of timing and familiarity and it could just have been the perfect storm of things. Even without gronk, I would expect a major bounce back next year.

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#13 by Cian Fahey // Dec 26, 2013 - 3:50pm

Am limited in how many pass charts I can make because I do them manually, but the Russell Wilson piece has his up to a few weeks ago:

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#21 by Perfundle // Dec 26, 2013 - 6:55pm

Just wondering, when did Wilson throw that pass that went 61 yards downfield? Was that the Hail Mary attempt in the 49ers game?

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#23 by Cian Fahey // Dec 26, 2013 - 7:22pm

Deepest pass on the chart is the late INT v SF.

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#3 by eagle97a // Dec 26, 2013 - 1:33pm

We all should remember Brett Favres' supposed decline during the late '00s until his 2009 season. This might be a case of normal career variation. At the worst we still need several season's data after this season to be more conclusive about his decline in play.

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#6 by Kal // Dec 26, 2013 - 2:35pm

But Brett Favre did have a massive decline. He had one odd season that was spectacular - even for him - but then collapsed utterly the following year. And the year before that he wasn't anything special. It's much more reasonable to state that you can have a good or great season in your decline, but it doesn't make you declining any less.

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#18 by eagle97a // Dec 26, 2013 - 5:54pm

He had so-so seasons 2005 & 2006 but productive seasons 2007-09 by PFR's AV. I presume you mean his 2010 season for the massive decline? Actually parsing his career it seems to me his 2010 season is the one outlier and not his other good seasons.

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#27 by Purds // Dec 26, 2013 - 9:33pm

In the abstract you may be right, but with any 36/37-year-old QB, we're not getting "several seasons of data after this season." All of us fans of Brady (and Manning…) would love to see that, but it's not going to happen. 2-3 years, yes. Several, nope.

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#4 by PaddyPat // Dec 26, 2013 - 2:23pm

There are a few other points here. Brady's health is generally very cloudy to us on the outside, although you can glean certain things from play on the field. Brady seemed, for example, to take some sort of an injury in the 2007 season's AFC Championship game against San Diego. He appeared to get injured on a sack in the second half of the 2011 season Super Bowl. He definitely was injured for a spell earlier this year, although there was little official press from the team to enable us to determine the timespan and severity of the injury. I would wonder if accuracy issues varied during that period of the season; was he more accurate against Pittsburgh, for example? Is his accuracy consistent game in and game out, or are there saliently bad games.

All that aside, my perception has been that he has been fading two years in a row--less pocket presence, diminished ball placement accuracy, less willingness to take hits, etc. Last year, his strengths enabled him to overcome this trend, as pointed out in this year's FOA, but the eye test didn't really hold up. It has been worse this year. The question is, can he rebound? If not, at what point does a team pull the plug?

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#7 by dryheat // Dec 26, 2013 - 2:48pm

Probably around the time they can get someone better. There's no denying Brady is having an off-year. Time will tell if it's truly the beginning of the end. Logic says that, without the infusion of A-list WR talent, it probably is. Recognizing that, he's still operating on a higher plane than 2/3 the QBs in the league.

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#9 by theslothook // Dec 26, 2013 - 3:03pm

Could be, but he keeps saying he's healthy(for whatever that's worth). I think the thing that gets me is how blindly people keep acting like Brady is playing lights out and its the team that keeps failing him over and over and that he somehow deserves mvp.

I think the most untold story is how Ne has managed to remain competitive on defense despite the myriad of injuries to their best players.

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#10 by PaddyPat // Dec 26, 2013 - 3:09pm

Completely agree. My thought is just that it will be interesting to see whether Belichick will treat Brady like Lawyer Malloy and Richard Seymour or like Rodney Harrison; ie. how quickly will he move to replace him. I have the sense that Belichick is in this for the looong haul.

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#24 by theslothook // Dec 26, 2013 - 8:20pm

I personally think you guys are crazy. There is no way the pats move on from brady unless brady really falls of a cliff. Even brady at this level of play is more valuable than 75 percent of the starters out there. Even finding that caliber of a quarterback is hard to find.

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#30 by Bobman // Dec 27, 2013 - 2:31am

Yeah. The Pats have traditionally been very "cold" and analytical about age, production, and salary, but I don't see any way Brady goes elsewhere unless a third leg starts growing out his eyebrow and the NFL cannot find an approved helmet for him. More or less.

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#5 by PaddyPat // Dec 26, 2013 - 2:23pm

Double Post...

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#11 by Bolt332 (not verified) // Dec 26, 2013 - 3:15pm

Brady's numbers since the Steelers game.

102.8 QB rating
15 touchdowns
4 interceptions
8.24 YPA
65.8 completion percentage

He had a rough first half, due to various factors. But he has been one of the best QB's over the course of the second half of the year, so I think this may be a bit premature.

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#16 by PaddyPat // Dec 26, 2013 - 5:21pm

I think this observation overlaps the biggest criticism of this article. Conventional numbers indicate that Brady has been his usual self of late, or at least most of his usual self. This return to form does not map onto Gronkowski's on-field presence very well (weeks 7-13). It may be a better marker of whatever injury Brady suffered early this season.

I guess the argument this article is making is that pinpoint precision hasn't been there even when receivers have caught the passes. This is not easy to evaluate without clear context. For example, comparing the season-long Brady chart with the Russell Wilson chart does not appear to come out favorably for Wilson. Wilson has fewer reds but also a lot fewer greens. Moreover, the chart includes the weakest parts of Brady's season. Brady's third chart looks a lot better than Wilson's season long chart. If Brady's final third has been good but not great, does that mean that the article is arguing that Wilson is replacement level?

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#17 by Thomas_beardown // Dec 26, 2013 - 5:23pm

Wilson has thrown 200 fewer passes than Brady, so his chart is going to look more sparse in general.

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#20 by Perfundle // Dec 26, 2013 - 6:44pm

"Brady's third chart looks a lot better than Wilson's season long chart."

Huh? It isn't remotely better. I have Brady with 35 accurate and 13 inaccurate passes between 10 and 20 yards downfield, and 5 accurate and 8 inaccurate passes further than 20 yards. Wilson, meanwhile, threw 50 accurate and 13 inaccurate passes between 10 and 20 yards downfield, and 30 accurate and 14 inaccurate passes further than 20 yards. I'm not going to bother counting the shorter passes, but even there Wilson looks like he has more accuracy. The last two Seahawks games have probably dragged Wilson to the accuracy on Brady's third chart.

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#22 by Scott Kacsmar // Dec 26, 2013 - 7:06pm

I appreciate the charts, but maybe to quench some of the criticism, Cian can also post a table that shows the number of accurate and inaccurate passes for each pass range and he can compare Brady to Wilson in that regard. That would make things a bit more clear. Plus, Wilson is someone he's done already and has also been mentioned as a MVP candidate this year by those who don't just want to admit Manning's winning the award with ease.

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#25 by PaddyPat // Dec 26, 2013 - 8:51pm

Okay, I did a count, recognizing that it's easy to underestimate the sample differences. Just evaluating Brady's recent performance, the third chart:

It's admittedly hard to count all the carrots, but I get a breakdown something like this:

Wilson Brady
Behind LOS 90% 89%
up to 10 yds 87% 86%
up to 20 yds 80% 70%
up to 30 yds 66% 37.5%
behind 30 60% 50%

The sample sizes for Brady become miniscule beyond 20 yards, but I guess what we're saying then is that even at his best right now, Brady is missing passes between 10 and 20 yards at a greater rate than he used to?

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#12 by AB in DC (not verified) // Dec 26, 2013 - 3:22pm

Very disappointed in this article. Lots of blanket statements -- "Brady hasn't elevated his individual performance on the field. Instead, he appears to be finally fading", "Brady's improvement is only enough to elevate him from average quarterback play to above-average ", "He hasn't been one of the best in the league this year" -- without a shred of evidence presented that would support them. Nowhere is there a comparison between Brady in 2013 vs. other years; nowhere is there a ocmparison betwen Brady in 2013 and other QBs in 2013. That's what we would need to see before making any of these claims.

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#14 by Cian Fahey // Dec 26, 2013 - 3:51pm

I've laid out what Brady has been this season so far. Do you really need me to tell you in detail how good he was during his prime? I think it's safe to say it clearly wasn't comparable to this.

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#19 by theslothook // Dec 26, 2013 - 6:03pm

I think you're being unfair. There isn't much of a debate about this issue, brady has been far worse this year than his normal elite self. The follow up response has been to say its been all his teamates and hes been just fine. Cian is attempting to show that narrative to be false, using the charts and illustrations. I guess its up to you to decide if you trust his judgement or think he's using a few bad examples when brady has been otherwise awesome.

Personally, I don't think even pats fans believe brady has played the same as years before. His pocket presence and accuracy have been both been worse. The million dollar question is why? Is it related to the wide receiver turnover or age or injury? Personally, I think its the first and that once he becomes more comfortable with the receivers, the timing will return and he'll go back to being brady. But its really hard to tell.

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#37 by Anonymousse (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 10:14am

"I think you're being unfair. There isn't much of a debate about this issue, brady has been far worse this year than his normal elite self"

Then it should be really easy to see when the author slaps up the charts.

I agree with you that Brady looks like hes declining, but the article would be a lot stronger if he actually showed evidence of it.

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#15 by Aaron Schatz // Dec 26, 2013 - 4:29pm

I'm guessing we're going to see Cian Fahey do a couple of other quarterback analyses of this type in the offseason, which will provide an opportunity for comparison. In addition, he did similar graphs for throws by Russell Wilson in the article two weeks ago:

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#26 by Purds // Dec 26, 2013 - 9:31pm

Not sure how to determine the reasons/causes behind these numbers and the charts, but I am glad that FO did this for us fans. Thank you, Cian!

I would love to see more of these. If nothing else, it's interesting to see where each team/QB throws the ball most often. (For example, Seattle screens right way more than left. And, while NE/Brady throws right a little bit more than left in the short game, their passes from 0-5 especially are really evenly distributed across the field.) I know these have been laid out in charts with numbers, but somehow the graphic works better for me.

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#28 by JoRo // Dec 27, 2013 - 1:21am

Wondering how you can say it should be Brady's greatest season when all the information following in the piece points to his decline.

Would love to see one of these for Peyton at some point this year or offseason, both because of all the records Denver has threatened and to compare how father time and neck surgeries have affected Manning.

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#29 by Perfundle // Dec 27, 2013 - 2:11am

He's saying that conventional wisdom says it should be, as "there is a logical argument that can be made to suggest that this is Brady's greatest season because of the turmoil the team has overcome," but the analysis suggests that it isn't.

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#31 by Bobman // Dec 27, 2013 - 2:52am

From a 10,000 foot perspective, this can be normal variance all hitting at once, or it can be age-related. I find it very off that we have two HOF QBs still producing like crazy at 36/37. Not too long ago Favre was looked on as somewhat freakish doing it at 39, and on a play by play basis, Brady and Manning have "always" been better than Favre, and still are, just a couple years removed from his final peak. It's pretty unusual statistically, no? And therefore, if it IS age, that would be considered pretty normal. Even expected. (Of course, after the Pats/Broncos game a month ago I was ready to write Manning off for the same thing--he looked like he had retired the prior Tuesday and forgot to tell everybody. I suspect his ankles were more of an issue than we knew.) Seriously, if Manning had retired after 2011, would we even be having this convo, or would this be looked on as the inevitable, noble decline due to age, exacerbated by some externalities like the young WRs and missing TEs?

Another suspect is "the giant hand of weirdness" that was much bandied about online earlier this season. Not sure what it was, if anything (just a swollen bruise?) and the online pictures didn't look nearly as convincing/gruesome to me as they did to others (who claimed his hand had swollen to double its normal size), but maybe he had an undisclosed injury (mon dieu!) that affected his accuracy and he's still working things out.

Add in the new kids on the block, missing Gronk, and an OL that hasn't quite allowed him to stand lock-kneed while surveying the field as much... well, a fall-off is pretty understandable. (Add in kid(s) not sleeping through the night, which ruined my professional production for a half decade....)

If we come back week 6 next year and we're having the same discussion, then we can say something has changed, not for the better, and probably permanently. Age gets us all in the end. But if he's back to "normal" then we can look back on this and chuckle. Eh, it was SOMETHING, just not something huge. And maybe not something we'll ever learn about, either.

My money is on age, though. No idea how Manning is doing it, but both of these guys are relied upon to carry their teams right now and even the slightest fall-off appears magnified and disastrous (i.e. Manning's performance vs the Pats this year). In an older model, with a balanced team with a run game, competent D, less media scrutiny (i.e. the 60s/70s/80s), the star QB would be allowed to have a few fading years of reduced production but great leadership, high IQ play-calling, and a few playoff games before being replaced by the next big thing and either moving on or acting as a backup/tutor for a couple seasons.

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#32 by Edge (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 8:00am

I don't think its unusual for there to be a QB or two in the league performing as well as Brady is this season past the age of 36. 39 is much more rare. Trent Green, Kurt Warner, Roger Staubach, Kurt Warner, Rich Gannon, Dan Marino, Elway, Young, Favre, and others have all had seasons as good as Brady's after 36.

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#34 by Hurt Bones // Dec 27, 2013 - 8:42am

Trent Green did not have a good season after 36. He didn't have a good season after 35. At 36 Green had a -2.9% and an anemic 4.28 ANY/A.

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#33 by Edge (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 8:00am

Take it to 39, and very few QB's are still playing at a high level.

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#35 by Anonymousse (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 9:57am

Brady has done a poor job of throwing deep/middle-deep to the outside of the field his entire career.

He's been a little worse this last year, but most of this isn't news.

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#36 by Anonymousse (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 10:02am

Just finished reading the rest, and I agree with you that Brady's pocket presence has gotten worse this year.

However, the rest of it just seems to be all the things Patriots fans have been saying for the last couple of years: he fails to lead open receivers too often, and throws behind them. He locks onto guys too often and misses wide open receivers. He's hit-shy.

He's still a very good QB, but these flaws aren't new.

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#38 by intel_chris (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 11:33am

I have to agree with the fans of this article by Cian. So, yes, please do more of them. FO has become a good site not only for the advanced statistics you gather and present (very well, I can happily add), but also for nice in depth analysis of specific plays using charts, film, etc.

While I can understand why some of the detractors may find the article less than convincing, it is definitely a "point piece" discussing only one player and illustrating it with only a limited number of plays. One has to realize that as an educational tool, that is perhaps the best way to present it. The small number of examples discussed in depth, while not convincing statistically are instead mean to be illustrative, and to be specific examples highlighting the point. The charts of passes provide more of the statistical data. And, yes, we may only have a limited number of charts for a limited number of players to compare, but with producing them being a manual and thus time consuming task, that isn't surprising. Moreover, the nature of the charts, classifying throws as accurate/inaccurate is by its nature a subjective judgement, so without a legion of charters doing the work, we are never going to have massive amounts of that data. It isn't something we can automate. Additionally, even with numerous charters we would still get subjective differences between the charters (e.g. note the resent article on QB hits, where a couple of charts were marked anomalous because the charters were suspected of over or under-counting).

So, while we may want more, we must accept the piece for what it is. It is not a puff piece. It tries to make an argument that investigates the "conventional wisdom" with detailed analysis. It illustrates that analysis with a few examples that would appear to be representative to make the points clearer. It uses that data and the examples as best it can to form a convincing argument. It is up to each of our own consideration whether we accept that argument or not.

I think it should be applauded for the attempt, even by those who find it less than convincing. Even as a detractor, one must admit they read the entire piece. This is the type of writing I come to FO for.

I even find the debate afterword to be insightful. So, don't limit debating the content of the article. The point is still unsettled. Just realize, it isn't the article's fault that we don't know the answer to whether "Tom Brady is GOD" or not. At least here we can have the debate based upon some facts.

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#39 by Dr. Bill // Dec 27, 2013 - 1:48pm

The issue in this article isn't the analysis, which is well-supported and reasoned: lower offensive production this year is not a simple matter of young receivers being out of place/dropping balls. I'm less sanguine about the conclusion though.

It's very possible that indirect effects associated with having many new members of the offense results in subtle but powerful effects at the margin. The interdependency of effort in football is what makes individual performance evaluation so difficult--if you know a player's assignment, and the coordination concepts of the unit, you can reasonably pick out gross errors. What would be hard for us as outside observers to see variance in true expert knowledge and high levels of group coordination. I can imagine that when the offense is very practiced and has many expert practitioners, very subtle but critical adjustments--running a route a tad shallower, committing more or less to a block on a DB, etc.--could have profound effects on the processing speed and efficacy of the unit members. I think that Brady has often benefited from (and of course contributed to) very practiced, coordinated offenses. Players like Gronk or Moss are superior athletes, while players like Troy Brown or David Patton weren't, but I think all four of those players had great football smarts and tremendous synchronicity with Brady.

If this is the case, it's less Brady dropping off, and more of the long game of building up unit excellence. Or maybe Brady really was superior physically earlier in his career lifting the boat by himself, and he has lost physical ability since then, sinking the boat, so to speak. I can't say either way, but as I don't think Brady was ever good because of physical ability, I kind of doubt physical decline is the cause.

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#40 by theslothook // Dec 27, 2013 - 3:18pm

I think, from my perspective, the one thing about brady that's odd is his deteriorated pocket presence. One thing I've long felt he was special at and was actually better than PM at early in their careers was his ability to move around in the pocket. Manning has gotten better at that as time went on, but brady was really the best I'd ever seen at it. I'd say the last 3 years, I've seen brady slowly start to become weaker in those areas. Especially the ducking at the signs of pressure. I'm not sure if that's just an aberration, especially since its tangential at best to claim that as a result of age, but its the one thing I've seen of his actual get worse over time.

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#41 by Corey (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 5:26pm

This all falls on... do you think Brady was better pre-2007, or post-2007?

Which QB would you want? (I'd take either) (Because either will always be better than any QB in the league)

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#42 by LenoOne (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 5:35pm

Great work on this article Cian!

I don't see much of a drop of with Brady's ability. What I see as Dr. Bill hinted to is that the offense needs to grow as a unit. I believe there are multiple factors at play causing the decline of Brady's stats. The biggest factor has been the O line play against top notch D lines this year. The AFC East opponents of the Pats have been building their teams to attack Brady. They all have a fearsome pass rush from a stout front line. Since Brady can not get rid of the ball fast enough for him to also be able to protect himself from vicious hits, we see the effects in the inaccurate passes.

If you watch Brady throwing in the preseason, he seemed to be on fire and very accurate. I think this offense will be dangerous with a fully healthy Brady next year. Like Manning said, he might even break the new TD record!

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#43 by Paul in Boston (not verified) // Dec 27, 2013 - 9:24pm

I want to back up what LenoOne said, a lot of the problems are the new players learning the plays and becoming accustomed to what Brady expects. Many of the "inaccurate" passes are what I'd call "Welker passes", short fast passes that are barely ankle high. Welker made his living by catching them and hitting the dirt before getting creamed by a defender. Over Welker's five years he and Brady had the timing of those passes down cold. Not so much with the new crew though Edelman seems to be developing the knack lately.

As for Brady losing it, please tell us how many QBs in the NFL could consistently drive his team 80 yards down the field with 60 seconds left on the clock and be in a position to make the winning score five games in a row?

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#44 by KarlK (not verified) // Jan 20, 2014 - 9:35am

I think Brady's performance in the AFC Championship game confirms the observations in this article.

Are we seeing the inevitable decline of Tom Brady? We may be.

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#45 by hartcwm // Feb 01, 2014 - 4:40pm

I really don't think this is just this year. I remember watching that last Superbowl against and thinking something looks off. That Safety (questionable call or not) would not have been called if he didn't over throw the receiver by 10 - 15 yards. The he had Gronk open and held the ball so long that he then could not throw it as that far and it was picked off. I would love to see this charted back to from that season till now and see if it has been a decline from that time.

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