Tom Brady is without a doubt one of the best QBs in the history of the NFL but is he showing signs of...slowing down? WGR’s Jeremy White goes deeper into the Patriots first two losses this season.
First things first - I’m not going to claim that I know how to beat Tom Brady. If I could do it, I’d be coaching in the NFL. This is a task that has proven to be too tough for many NFL coaches, coordinators, defensive backs, and anyone else facing New England over the last decade or so.
However...there seems to be growing sentiment that Brady has lost a step (or a throw). Consider for a moment this article from James Walker at ESPN.com.
The numbers seem to indicate that Brady is on the downside of his career (a downside which I will frequently point out is miles ABOVE most upsides). Through three games the Patriots are an unthinkable 1-2 and it’s not all because of Brady. With four touchdowns and one interception, and a QB rating of 97, he’s done enough to win games for the Patriots.
They’re still favorites to beat the Bills on Sunday.
They’re still favorites to win the division.
They’re still favorites to make noise in the playoffs.
BUT...the Bills can beat him if they can get to him. What we will find out, and what I’ll show you through the All-22 film is that Dave Wanstedt and the Bills defenders have to find a way to defend what Mark Sanchez and the Jets did in Week 1.
The New England loss to Arizona is quite possibly the upset of the year. Only the second week of the season and somehow the Kevin Kolb-led Cardinals went to Gillette Stadium and plucked a win.
Arizona got out to a perfect start - intercepting Brady's first pass. It's exactly what the Buffalo Bills would like to do on Sunday.
The Cardinals rush four on the play. Defensive Tackle Darnell Dockett is the playmaker here, and all without actually applying pressure. Dockett gets handled at the line, but as Julian Edelman comes open at the 23 yard line, the throw from Brady is deflected up into the air by Dockett and intercepted.
This isn’t any sort of crazy All-22 breakdown but it sets the tone.
Rush four...hands up...and have as many bodies back in coverage as possible. Dockett's tip is caught by Patrick Peterson. Arizona is in business.
On the next New England possession the Patriots get the ball moving a bit. Trailing 6-0 Brady and the Patriots go to an offense that should look somewhat familiar. This is quite similar to the Jets quick passing game from Week 1.
The first completion is a 6 yard WR screen to Julian Edelman
Second - 9 yard pass to Rob Gronkowski.
Third - Play-action throwback screen to Steven Ridley
New England has started to move the ball without a vertical passing game. The days of Brady to Moss down the field are gone. Brady does look for Brandon Lloyd but that connection hasn’t hit it big yet. We’ll look next at his fourth pass attempt and this is where I see a lot of Bills v. Jets.
Notice the huge cushions given by the ARZ cornerbacks. Brady’s supreme accuracy on these types of throws are ones that keep the chains moving. They won’t kill you on play, but over time it can be death by a thousand cuts. A quick throw out to Lloyd here only nets two yards because the Cardinals are good on the pursuit.
Lloyd stutter steps and goes essentially nowhere as he’s tackled for a gain of three yards. The play isn’t a huge success but it showcases something we have seen before - neutralizing a pass rush. QUICK throws do it every time. The Patriots specialize in these. The drive ultimately stalls out after consecutive throws to Lloyd that go down the field...go for naught. The Patriots settle for a 50 yard field goal.
Did you read the article I posted from James Walker of ESPN.com to show you what Brady is missing? No. Ok, well here's an example of it. It’s one play, but it can be the difference between a win and a loss in the NFL.
The Patriots set up with a single WR to the top of the screen. Brandon Lloyd runs a post route and gets single coverage because the safety pays more attention to Gronkowski.
At the snap you’ll see the Safety to the right of the right hashmark of the 35 yard line. He doesn’t pay too much attention to the action in the backfield, but is entirely focused on TE Rob Gronkowski coming off the line.
Brady back at the 41 has two and a half weeks to make this throw down the field to his new toy at WR. This is Brandon Lloyd brought in just for this purpose. The safety is keyed on Gronk. The QB has time. The WR is open. Book it, right?
From the endzone you can see the safety beginning to move away. Lloyd flashes open.
The safety has committed to the left...to Gronk. This throw over the top of him is a TD in 2007, right?
And here is the miss. Brady’s throw should be more to the left of the field. He needs to continue Lloyd on his post route. It’d take him right over top of the safety that is dead-to-rights. Instead....
We see Lloyd behind both defenders as the ball hits the turf. It lands around the hasmark. The ball is off target. It might be on the receiver for flattening out too much. It might be on Brady for putting the throw in the wrong spot, but this is a miss either way. Instead of what should have been a TD...the Patriots punt.
Teams don't blitz Brady. It just isn't done all that much. Don't expect the Bills to do it either.
The Cardinals picked up 2 sacks in the course of three plays late in the 2nd quarter. The first was on a fake-double-reverse-end-around-goof troop play that the Pats called. The second came in an obvious passing situation.
It’s 2nd and 25. The Cardinals rush four, but they stunt on the right side.
Quentin Groves comes in completely unblocked. 4 pass rushers, 5 blockers, but the miscommunication up front for New England has resulted in a man running free. Groves swallows up Brady on the play.
There are three receivers available for Brady, with Gronkowski coming out of the backfield as a dump off option. The original line of scrimmage is the 33 yard line. Longer developing routes...more time required...and the Cardinals do the job - getting there with 4.
The Patriots go to the half with just 6 points.
On the first play of the half is New England’s biggest completion of the day. The first throw to Welker (yes...first TO Welker goes for a 36 yard completion). It’s a downfield throw. The drive stalls from there...an the Pats settle for another field goal. A 9-6 lead.
The Pats start to find their rhythm on offense. This play should look familiar.
Welker across the middle. Solid gain and a first down conversion. Welker has room and he kills teams like this. The Cardinals are sitting in Cover 2 - As if they’re afraid of the deep ball. Should they be? It’s deep into the 3rd quarter and the Patriots downfield passing game has been non-existent to this point outside of the one throw to Welker.
New England would get its only touchdown on a 5 yard pass to Rob Gronkowski. Gronk had another big catch earlier in the drive...a 22 yard completion over the middle. Most puzzing is that it took the Pats into the 2nd half to involve Welker and Gronkowski.
Gostkowski missed the kick that ultimately that would have picked up the win, but he did his part earlier in the game. Field goals from 34, 46, 51, and 53 along the way.
Maybe it was a bad day. Maybe it’s a sign of something bigger.
In their Week 3 loss to the Ravens the Patriots offense looked healthy once again.
Long ball, schmong ball. Brady’s still got it right? After a terrible start on their first drive the Pats showcase what they’ve been doing for as long as you remember. Brady to Welker vertically for a big gain.
At the snap there are two receivers to the top of the screen. Brandon Lloyd (targeted often, but with limited success so far) and Wes Welker. Lloyd runs up the field while Welker runs the wheel route to the sideline underneath him.
The route is perfect. The throw is perfect.
Welker in stride collects the ball and picks up 59 yards.
The Ravens loss was an entirely different loss. A one point loss on the road to a very good Baltimore team is nothing to be ashamed of. The Pats offense still stuck to the run an awful lot more than you’ve seen in the past...and they continue to work the short passing game as well.
Brady and the Patriots run the two minute drill to perfection to close out the first half.
After giving up back-to-back touchdowns New England starts at their own 19 yard line. Fast forward to the Ravens red zone and Brady looks to be in top form. He’s picking the Ravens apart piece-by-piece and it's a TD to Julian Edelman capping the drive. The Ravens rushed....three on that play.
New England’s next TD drive features passing plays that are all 11 yards or less.
After that, a field goal drive that goes from the NE 20 to the Baltimore 2. 78 yards in 12 yards or less.
This Patriots team is about the short passing game primarily.
Conclusions - The Patriots are still a very good offense as long as Tom Brady is running it. Weapons like Welker, Gronkowski, Lloyd and now (apparently) Julian Edelman make them a tough matchup for the Bills.
How do the Bills win?
My matchup to watch - The Bills DBs. It’s the most important thing going in. Brady will get his time. The play-calling of the Patriots will see to it that most of the throws he makes are quick. Mark Sanchez killed the Bills this way in Week 1. I anticipate a short passing game. I anticipate back-breaking third down conversions (much like the Jets had). I think the Bills will get to Brady occasionally.
Will Chan Gailey and Dave Wannstedt DARE Brady to throw deep? If the DBs are going to keep everything in front of them, then it comes down to tackling and pass rush. If you press as much as possible in coverage and take away the shorter routes you can still lose.
Can the Bills defense dictate that Brady needs deeper drops...longer routes...and tougher throws? They couldn’t against Mark Sanchez in the opener. This test is a whole lot tougher.
There’s a strange thing I’m thinking about New England - they might win the Superbowl. Go with me for a moment here...
The three Superbowl titles came when they were just a little bit better than everyone else. They had great coaching and great efficient play from the QB position. Brady was a surgeon. He’d make the right read and they were known as a short passing team.
Then in 2007 they set the league on fire. They went 16-0. They were marauders. They were an offensive juggernaut that could throw it all over you again and again and again. They didn’t win.
Last year they set a record with TD passes to a TE. Rob Gronkowski was the unstoppable monster. They again...did not win.
It’s almost as though New England is getting back to that not-so-dominant yet dominant offense of 2001-2004.
Maybe these two losses are just blips, and we’re about to see that they are, once again, just 3 points better than all the teams they play. The defenses of those teams were not all-time great. Think back to that time...we would say “They just find a way.”
Are they beatable? Absolutely.
Will they be beaten? We shall see.
Press the WRs.
Sit on short passes.
Take your chances on the deep balls.
Get to Brady.
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