Tom Brady has thrown for 1,087 yards through three games, second most in the NFL, and he already has five targets with at least a dozen catches and four with at least 138 yards. He's thrown 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions (one on a Hail Mary, one on a screen that went through Leonard Fournette's hands) and his passer rating sits at a cool 109.3.
Also, Tom Brady is 44 years old and not particularly fleet of foot by his own admission, and as such he's basically breaking new ground every time he takes the field. He's probably a bit more nimble in 2021 after an offseason knee procedure, and indeed his 20 rushing yards this year are already 14 more than he had in his first Tampa Bay season. Of course, the Buccaneers are not relying on Brady's feet.
Yet neither are they sacrificing an aggressive approach in order to keep Brady out of trouble. So far in 2021, with the help of an offensive line that has provided very good protection, the Buccaneers' passing attack has been both unpressured and quick to get the ball off, without sacrificing big plays in the intermediate range. All of that worked to the tune of 423 passing yards in Week Three against the Rams.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Buccaneers have had the lowest rate of pressured throws in the entire NFL. Tom Brady has dropped back 147 times so far this year and has been sacked, hit or pressured on 24 of them. That's a 16.3% pressure percentage, the best in the league.
Some of that has to do with the fact that Brady and the Buccaneers have generally gotten rid of the ball quickly. Brady and the Buccaneers have gotten the ball into the air on an average of 2.73 seconds per throw, which is tied with Miami for the sixth-fastest in the NFL. It helps that Brady has often had open men to which to throw the ball.
By the estimation of Next Gen Stats, Brady has thrown the ball to an "open man" (a target with at least three yards of separation from the nearest defender) more than half the time, and tied for the fifth-highest percentage in the league.
Team…Open Target Percentage
|4. Kansas City…54.1%|
|5t. L.A. Rams…53.2%|
|5t. Tampa Bay…53.2%|
Tampa Bay's average air yards per attempt is 8.0 so far this season, which only ranks 20th in the NFL, and the Bucs only have one completion longer than 32 yards through their first three games. That suggests a lot of short and intermediate throws and, given the Bucs robust passing numbers overall, a high success rate on that type of play. However, Brady does have one specific target that he uses to stretch the ball downfield more often than not.
That, of course, would be Mike Evans. According to Next Gen Stats, the average pass to Evans this year has traveled an average of 13.8 yards in the air. Among players with at least 20 targets, that's the seventh-highest figure in the NFL behind Buffalo's Emmanuel Sanders, Denver's Courtland Sutton, Jacksonville's D.J. Chark, Baltimore's Marquise Brown, Seattle's Tyler Lockett and Miami's DeVante Parker.
And Evans has done an excellent job of getting open on those field-stretching targets. Next Gen Stats has considered him open on 56.0% of his targets, which is seventh-best in the NFL among receivers with 20-plus targets. And on the list above of players targeted farther down the field, only Brown ranks higher in open percentage at 56.5%.
The Buccaneers haven't yet hit a number of deep balls, the exception being a 47-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown in the season-opening win to Dallas. But they've combined a quick and effective passing attack with the ability to hit mid-range shots and the result has been one of the most productive aerial attacks in the NFL so far.