Bruce Arians is not Bill Belichick. In fact, you might not find more polar opposites in the coveted '1 of 32' NFL head coaches fraternity than those two. Belichick coaches in the AFC, Arians coaches in the NFC. Belichick comes from a defensive background, Arians from an offensive one. Belichick is known for his rigid demeanor and all-business operation. Arians jokes with reporters and threatens to fire his staff for missing a ballet recital.
But now they will have a quarterback in common, and the things Tom Brady will be asked to do for the Buccaneers under Arians might not be as different as those he was asked to do for the Patriots under Belichick as you think.
Arians said it himself in a conference call following the news of the Brady acquisition.
"We've watched all of [the Patriots'] film and they're so similar – in a lot of ways – to what we do, it's just how you call it," said Arians. "Obviously, the people are going to be doing their jobs differently and that's the hardest part. Julian Edelman runs certain routes and Chris Godwin runs certain routes and they're very similar, but they are different people."
We already addressed some of the concerns that other have had with this pairing in the first part of this series, now let's take a look at exactly why Brady could work so well under the Arians umbrella by comparing some components of the 2019 Patriots to the 2019 Buccaneers.
Obviously, the personnel is different, the offensive coordinators and playcalling are different. The way teams choose to defend the two offenses is different. But as you'll see, some of the concepts are very much the same.
Full disclaimer: I don't have the same abilities to sort plays as coaching software – I'm using NFL Game Pass, which is also free for everyone right now, by the way. Because of that, these plays look different (because they are), but they are employing similar concepts which is what we're getting at here.
In the first part of the series, one of the concerns addressed was Brady's ability to still throw the deep ball. I only gave one example (albeit a pretty dang good one), but let's dive into that a little bit more.
This was the example from Brady to Dorsett.
Now, those weren't exactly the same play. Dorsett came out of the slot where Evans was the outside receiver. Quarterback Jameis Winston was under center where Brady was in the shotgun. But we're looking at arm strength here, after all. And Brady seems more than capable of a play like that to Evans.
"I think the perception is just wrong," Arians said of Brady. "I thought his deep ball was outstanding last year. Through their play-action game, they hit a lot of deep balls."
Arians went on: "I think the freedom of looking downfield on certain routes and in certain situations when the matchup is perfect – take it. Don't be afraid to take it."
And Brady wasn't last year, especially out of play action.
Notice in both, the quarterback takes the snap from under center. The running back is aligned in the I-formation, each 5-6 yards deep. The pass also goes to a side where there are multiple receivers at different levels. Route combinations like that will force safeties and other deep defenders to have to make decisions and Brady and Winston also both do a good job recognizing where their receivers have their man beat. Winston does it with one less receiver on the field though because the Bucs are in a two tight end set vs. the Patriots in 11 personnel. But the play action buys the quarterback time to let routes develop, which is what helped both these plays go for big gains.
Here are a couple more that, while in different formations, play action is used to buy the quarterback time.
Notice another component to these plays: the stacked receiver formation. New England used it a lot, as did the Bucs. Stacking receivers helps them get a free release, given that it's hard to press or jam them as a defender from such a tight alignment. More familiarity for Brady and two Pro Bowl receivers to stack or spread out at that.
Parallels will undoubtedly be drawn between Godwin and Edelman, just as Arians did in the aforementioned quote. Godwin was targeted from the slot about 41.8% of the time last season, while Edelman received 86.7% of his targets there, which yes, is over double that of Godwin's. But wait. Their success rate was a little more similar. Edelman caught 65.7% of his slot targets while Godwin caught 70.3% of the same such passes. And they both scored four touchdowns from that alignment.
But as Arians notes, they are different people. So, let's compare and contrast a couple of their touchdowns from the slot just for fun.
Both of these plays are at the goal line with each team in 11 personnel. Brady loves to use motion to get clues on what the defense is doing and although he doesn't use it in the above example, the Bucs do. Godwin motions over to the opposite side of the formation, making it a 3x1 vs. a 2x2 for a brief second before the ball is snapped. By the corner traveling with him, Winston knows it's man coverage. Brady splits a zone here against Washington but both quarterbacks get the ball out quickly and both Godwin and Edelman catch the ball right before the goal line for the score.
These two plays are a bit different, though both Godwin and Edelman come out of the slot for the score. The Patriots are in 11 personnel, running back in the backfield with Brady, and he hits Edelman on a straight post route in the end zone. The Bucs are in their empty set (more on those later), meaning it's an obvious passing situation and he'll likely have to get rid of the ball quickly. No problem. Godwin's catch point is right over the middle and the ball only traveled roughly 10 yards through the air before Godwin took it the rest of the way – he's good for yards after the catch, which brings me to their differences and why Brady can actually benefit from Godwin a little bit more.
One place Godwin and Edelman differ is their size. Edelman is 5-10. Godwin is 6-1 and therefore has the luxury of being a little more physical with defenders at the line. Just take a look at the below where Godwin outmuscles the defensive back before releasing into his route, using his speed to play catchup and get open so Winston can hit him for the long score.
It's also worth noting that Winston didn't throw the ball 71 yards here, either. Godwin got him some yards after securing the ball (again). In fact, out of the slot, Godwin had 266 yards after the catch in 2019, which is more than Edelman's 233 despite Godwin having 24 less receptions from that alignment.
Another way Godwin succeeded in the slot wasn't by his routes or his catching ability – if you recall, Arians praised him for his blocking ability this past season. It's something the Pats asked Edelman to do, too. Just check it out.
While both of those are in the run game, they also did so in pass protection to help out their respective quarterbacks. So, Brady is getting another slot receiver that isn't afraid to stick his nose in a defender's face. Neat.
You know Arians is known for his 'no risk-it, no biscuit' mentality but as I pointed out in Part 1 – that doesn't just mean the deep ball. It can mean tight-window throws, which both Brady and Arians like given that Jameis Winston threw into windows where the receiver had less than one yard of separation from the defender 16.8% of the time last season and Brady did the same 15.2% of the time. Not a whole lot of difference, as Scott Smith had initially pointed out. Risky behavior can also include empty sets, too.
Brady has impeccable timing when it comes to using five-wide alignments with an empty backfield. He'll use them from the 20 on first down. He'll use them in his own territory on second down. He has a feel for it, though. See, empty sets allow an offense to spread the defense out and essentially show their hand as to what kind of coverage they're running. New England would actually do a lot of running back reload plays, where the running back would initially line up in the backfield then motion before the snap closer to the line in a receiver alignment. That would let Brady see who was on the running back and if the matchup was favorable. But the reason these empty sets are a little risky is because they are obvious passing situations. There's no one in the backfield to threaten the run and Brady isn't known for his mobility, so the defense knows you're going to pass right away and can get a jump on adjusting accordingly.
Well, the Bucs did the same in certain situations. Risking it with an empty backfield and a five-wide set. There's even an example I pulled of the same running back reload.
The Patriots put James White all the way on the outside in the pre-snap motion, where the Bucs put Dare Ogunbowale in the slot.
But look the Bucs did the whole empty thing against Tennessee, too.
In this case, the Bucs are doing it in a two tight end set versus when that Patriots did it in 11 with one running back and one tight end. But the formation ends up looking very similar, spreading the defense out with three receivers on one side and two on the other, including a receiver on top of the numbers on both sides. The Bucs receivers end up spreading out pretty evenly right at the level of the first-down marker, two running verticals on either side and tight end O.J. Howard shallow in the middle. In the example with New England, Brady also had a shallow receiver over the middle and that ended up being the option Brady took. He also would have had that option in the play with the Bucs is what I'm getting at.
And more than all these built-in similarities, the relationship Arians builds with his quarterbacks will allow Brady to put his own spin on the game plan each and every week. It'll be an all-encompassing effort not only between Arians and Brady, but oh – also with offensive minds like Tom Moore, Byron Leftwich and Clyde Christiansen.
"I think that's one thing that drew us both together is I've always collaborated with my quarterbacks, whether it be putting a playbook together with Ben [Roethlisberger] [or] starting with Andrew [Luck] from scratch," Arians said. "[It's about] just finding out the likes and dislikes of a quarterback."
More on that in Part Three.
Now, the only thing left is for Brady to take his targets to Montana to get to know them a little bit more. Here's to hoping that's a possibility in this current situation we're all in. But at least he'll have a little piece of mind knowing his new skill players already bear similarities to what he's used to and if anything, are an upgrade.