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Tom Brady Thrives in the Middle | A Next Gen Look at Bucs-Eagles

With a quick average release and a willingness to work the middle and shallow zones, Tom Brady accomplished yet another career first, with Next Gen Stats helping to illustrate how good his performance was


In Week Five, Tom Brady accomplished something he had never before done in his 22-season NFL career – which was surprising, to say the least – and it earned him his 32nd Offensive Player of the Week Award. That achievement: 400 passing yards and five touchdown passes in the same game.

Four days later, while helping his Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off Week Six with the Eagles in Philadelphia, Brady once again posted a career first. This one is probably not gaudy enough to earn him another POTW trophy, but it was an impressive way of finding a way to win. Brady completed 34 of his 42 passes (80.95%) on Thursday night for 297 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. That marked the first time he threw 40-plus passes and finished the game with a completion percentage of 80% or better.

It is perhaps even more surprising that the greatest quarterback of all time and the QB who has started the most games in league history had never before put that combination of numbers before. Then again, it is not a particularly common feat for any NFL quarterback. Brady and Lamar Jackson are the only players to do it so far this season, just once each, and it had been done only seven other times in the previous five seasons, never more than once by any particular passer. There had only been one such game by a Buccaneer passer in the previous 45 seasons (by Jeff Garcia in 2007).

In this case, Brady simply assessed what the Eagles were and were not willing to give up and then took the path of least resistance to another big night for the Bucs' offense and, most importantly, the win. As Head Coach Bruce Arians explained the next day, the Eagles were determined not to give up the chunk plays that often come so easily from an offense that features Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and more.

"It's just what they were playing," said Arians. "They were playing very, very soft zone, keeping everything in front of us. The few times we tried to hit home runs they weren't very good plays. So it's just, keep taking what they're giving you and Tom does a great job of that."

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, three of Brady's eight incompletions were on plays where the ball was thrown 20 or more yards in the air downfield. Another four were on throws to the outer thirds, left and right, 10 or more yards in the air downfield. That means Brady was 32 of 33 on passes either thrown fewer than 10 yards downfield or between 10 and 19 yards down the middle. Those completions accounted for 254 of his 297 yards and both of his touchdown passes.

Specifically on plays down the middle third of the field, Brady was surgical yet productive, completing 18 of 19 for 158 yards and a touchdown. That produces a passer rating of 118.9.

As is their usual approach thanks to a very talented defensive front, the Eagles didn't blitz often on Thursday night, bringing five or more defenders at the quarterback on just 11 of Brady's 42 drop-backs. Tampa Bay's offensive line was able to largely neutralize those great Philadelphia pass-rushers, as Brady wasn't sacked and was hit only three times and pressured only six times.

Of course, Brady helped his O-Line in the quest to avoid sacks by routinely getting rid of the ball quickly. His average 'time to throw' (TTT) after the snap on Thursday night was 2.45 seconds, his second-fastest average in any game this season. He had a 2.39-second average TTT in the Buccaneers' Week Two win over Atlanta. Brady's TTT averages in the Atlanta and Philadelphia games rank eighth and 13th, respectively, among all QB outings in the NFL this season (minimum of 20 passes).

Brady was both very quick and very accurate. Obviously, that 80.95% completion rate illustrates the second point, but according to Next Gen Stats that was more than the Buccaneers should have expected. Next Gen had Brady's Expected Completion Percentage (xComp%) at 72.9%. That means Brady Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE) was 8.1%.

And, of course, Brady's skill-position teammates helped him quite a bit in putting up those big numbers. If Brady was throwing mostly short and quick passes he needed his pass-catchers to tack on yards after the catch, and they certainly did. Tampa Bay's YAC total of 203 yards on Thursday night was the 12th most by any offense in a single game this year. In addition to the receivers mentioned above, Brady also got a lot of help in that regard from running back Leonard Fournette (49 YAC) and tight end O.J. Howard (46 YAC). Oh, and none of Brady's passes were dropped.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers were willing to take what the Eagles were offering on Thursday night, but Philadelphia may not have expected them to take quite that much.

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