Before anything was certain – and just a few short weeks ago – the whispers of quarterback Tom Brady leaving his home of 20 years started to get louder. The ones of him coming to Tampa were barely audible. But they were there. And it turns out: they were right.
The reasons for the shushing of any possibility the Bucs would land Brady was more than the constant discounting of a franchise that has admittedly struggled to make the postseason in the last decade-plus. It was that their system simply 'didn't fit' the 43-year-old quarterback: Brady is in the twilight of his career, they proclaimed loudly. He can't throw the ball down the field like he used to, and Head Coach Bruce Arians loves to chuck it down the field. How will he fare behind that "terrible" offensive line?
But those critics were met with the noisiest move of free agency when Brady sent shockwaves through the NFL circuit by signing with Tampa Bay. A move that wouldn't have been made if neither Arians, nor Brady himself, felt that they couldn't be successful together.
And that speaks volumes.
So, in the first of this three-part series exploring the potential for Brady's success under the umbrella of a Bruce Arians offense, why don't we start by dispelling the aforementioned concerns above?
First things, first. According to PFF, the Bucs' offensive line ranked in the top 10 with center Ryan Jensen and guard Ali Marpet anchoring the interior. They helped protect the passer with the best of them. Yes, ahead of the Patriots, whose offensive line ranked 10th to the Bucs' seventh. The once-great Wall of New England Brady had the luxury of sitting behind with the Patriots has faltered a bit as of late, and you have to think with the departure of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, that trend will only continue. In Tampa Bay, the Bucs have Run-Game Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach Harold Goodwin along with offensive line coach Joe Gilbert at their disposal.
And while yes, the Pats' front allowed fewer sacks than the Bucs last season, consider the fact that sacks aren't all on the line. The reason Brady didn't take as many sacks has as much to do with Brady as it does with the guys in front of him. Did you know Brady had an average 'time to throw' of 2.75 seconds in 2019, according to NFL Next Gen Stats? In 2018, that number was even quicker at 2.62 seconds. It means Brady is getting rid of the ball quicker than most. That, in turn, allows the offensive line to be more aggressive and engage with defenders, with less fear a guy will get by you since the ball will be out of Brady's hands, either way. Engaging with defenders allows you to control the line of scrimmage. Fin.
Moving on to the notion that Brady's arm can't handle the way BA likes to chuck the ball down the field all the time. This is inaccurate for a couple of reasons, the first being, Brady absolutely can still heave the ball through the air.
"I think the perception is just wrong," said Arians when asked about the aforementioned notion. "I thought his deep ball was outstanding last year."
The Pats come out in 11 personnel and Brady lined up in the gun. Slot receiver Julian Edelman goes in motion, crossing Brady's face to the closed side, lining up wide to the side of the tight end and turning a 3x1 formation into a 2x2. Running back James White is in the backfield with Brady, set just inside the left tackle's shoulder over the B-gap. Notice how the Steelers roll their corners off and keep the two-high safety look. This lets Brady know it's a zone coverage. From there, while the Steelers are occupied with Edelman, Phillip Dorsett releases straight from the slot in a route to the opposite post, absolutely burning the weak-side safety and escaping free and clear behind Pittsburgh's last line of defense. Brady then unleashes an absolute bomb, placing it right in Dorsett's lap for the touchdown.
You get the idea.
But that isn't the only thing wrong with the idea that Brady isn't cut out for the workload. Perhaps an even bigger factor is the workload not being what you think it is. Sure, Arians is a 'no risk-it, no biscuit' kinda guy. But what does that mean? Risking it doesn't have to mean deep balls. Risking it can mean things like aggressiveness, for instance. As Scott Smith pointed out earlier, NFL Next Gen Stats measures 'aggressiveness' by a quarterback, which means the number of times a quarterback attempts a pass into tight coverage where the defender is within a yard of the intended receiver. While Jameis Winston threw 16.8% of his passes into tight windows, which wasn't even close to league leader Matt Stafford at 23.4% (when he was healthy), Brady was at 15.2%. Less than two percentage points when you're talking hundreds of pass attempts doesn't exactly make a whole lot of difference.
And there's more.
Those deep balls that people are so concerned about? Take into consideration that of the 380 completed passes by the Bucs' offense last season, 35 of them went for 21 yards or more. That's it.
"I think the freedom of looking downfield on certain routes and in certain situations when the matchup is perfect – take it," said Arians. "Don't be afraid to take it."
The key words there though are 'when the matchup is perfect.' While it's true that there's a touchdown and a check-down in every play, according to BA, that doesn't mean you go with the touchdown every time. Don't get me wrong, Arians went on to say doesn't want a 'Checkdown Charlie,' as he puts it, either. But he realizes there's a balance. During a conference call last week, Arians offered up one of the best sayings he's gotten from offensive analyst and legendary quarterbacking mind Tom Moore: "You never go broke putting money in the bank. Take the damn check-down.' Arians also adds that he doesn't think you need to teach Tom Brady that. Just like you don't need to make noise about him not being able to throw the deep ball. Full stop.
And now that brings me to Brady being in the 'twilight' of his career. You know who else they said that about? Carson Palmer. He was just two years removed from the Raiders trading not one but two first-rounders to the Bengals to get him and was seen as a total bust after two less than stellar seasons in Oakland. As a result, Arizona, and their new head coach Bruce Arians, got him on the cheap in 2013.
Just when everyone thought he was washed up, he instead went on to have some of the best years of his career and set new career highs. And while he had a long of 91 yards in 2013, his how far the ball was traveling in the air was hardly robust. He averaged 7.4 air yards per completion under BA. That's manageable, wouldn't you say? Palmer's best year came in his third season under Arians after his second was cut short due to injury. He bounced back in a major way, going 342 of 537 passing for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns against 11 interceptions in 2015. He also earned his first Pro Bowl nod since 2006 and earned a career-best 77.1 QBR.
So, allow me to shout it from the rooftops now, who said you can't teach an old(er) dog new tricks?