Brady’s back and he’s in great form
He showed little rust and renewed arm strength after his suspension
As a former player, I have grown frustrated with the oversimplification of football analysis. So this season, I will be watching the coaches’ video and analyzing the impact of all 22 players on the field and coaches’ game plan.
I know why you’re here: to read about the new addition to the New England Patriots offense. This week the Patriots added an exciting new running play, the “Wham.” In order to deal with the Cleveland Browns’ dominant defensive tackle Danny Shelton, the Patriots tried to use his aggressiveness against him. Rather than double-team Shelton with a guard and center as many teams do, on the “Wham,” the Pats center and guard run past Shelton without touching him, allowing him to run into the backfield, where the fullback blocks him. If run correctly, the “Wham” can put the D-linemen at different depths, which creates holes for the running back and can cause Shelton to play more slowly as the game progresses.
Oh, yeah, and the Pats started a new quarterback this week. Tom Brady is back! Since Sunday’s game, all I’ve heard is “he’s in midseason form” and “there’s no rust on him.” His 406 yards, 70 percent completion rate and three touchdowns seem to support those statements. But those stats are for the Football 101 crowd. As I do every week, I dove into the coach’s film to provide my fellow football nerds with some honors-level material.
Brady is as good as ever, right? As scary as it may be, for the rest of the league, the answer is no. Let’s start with the negatives.
There were plays where Brady was surprised by the Browns’ blitz and found himself under immediate pressure, facing an unblocked defender sprinting toward him. The best example of this was a third-and-10 play in the second quarter. Brady waved for a running back, who was lined up outside like a receiver, to come in and block if one of the defensive backs blitzed. However, two D-backs blitzed. To Brady’s credit, he immediately threw the ball away, avoiding a sack or turnover. The Patriots punted on the next play. The Browns deserve some credit for executing some well-disguised and effective blitzes, but those are situations that Brady is capable of exploiting.
At the 8:06 mark in the third quarter, the Browns were able to fool Brady with a blitz look. At the snap of the ball, they played man coverage, with linebacker Tank Carder dropping into an underneath zone. Brady targeted Martellus Bennett on a quick crossing route, but didn’t see Carder. The ball hit Carder in the hands, but wasn’t intercepted.
Though he was not sharp on every play, Brady outwitted the Browns’ defense on more plays than he didn’t. On Brady’s first play, he put on a clinic. The result was just a 10-yard pass to Julian Edelman, but Brady’s pre-snap manipulations and checks were impressive. Brady was under center with the running back, LeGarrette Blount, eight yards deep. There were two receivers to the left and on the right, Rob Gronkowski was next to the tackle, with Edelman in a tight split only a couple of yards away from Gronkowski. Brady puts the slot receiver in motion and learns that the Browns are in a zone defense. And because of the tight split of Edelman, the safety has to come down to the line of scrimmage to avoid getting blocked by Edelman and not getting to his run responsibility. Those two tells are enough for Brady to know the Browns are in cover 3. So, Brady audibles to a pass. Blount moves his alignment two yards closer, in order to join the protection. Then Brady snaps the ball knowing that the safety, who is at the line of scrimmage, cannot get to the flat, his pass responsibility, fast enough to defend an out route. Watching that play unfold was like watching the inner workings of an expensive watch, so precise and methodical that it was almost boring in its excellence.
2. Arm strength
It was clear that the rest served Brady’s arm well, because he was throwing the ball with characteristic accuracy and uncharacteristic strength. The pinpoint accuracy may come as no surprise, but Brady threw some impressive long balls. But, the passes he threw that warranted a rewind were deep comebacks and out routes. Brady hasn’t been much of an outside-the-numbers quarterback since the Randy Moss year. His top targets have been slot receivers and tight ends. But in this game he threw outside more than I was expecting. And the passes had velocity.
3. Buying time
For years Brady and the Patriots have prioritized getting the ball out quickly. That has allowed them to rely on Brady’s accuracy and not their offensive line. However, this week Brady channeled his inner Ben Rothlisberger, by moving in the pocket and buying time for receivers to get open deep. Rothlisberger is a bigger guy who can take hits, but Brady is not, so I hope he doesn’t make a habit of this. But against the Browns, it created a 63-yard pass to Chris Hogan. Brady employed this strategy a few times with mixed success, but fortunately he never took a big hit. If he continues, his good fortune will eventually run out.