Tom Brady won 3 Super Bowls in his first 4 seasons as a starter. He has not won a Super Bowl in the 9 seasons since. Does this mean he was better in his first 4 years than in the last 9? Well, based on the reasoning most in the media use to evaluate quarterbacks, you would have to say yes. Obviously, that is not the case. He’s improved in almost every area of his game since 2004, and there are many reasons for his consistently high level of play.
One reason is Brady’s pocket movement. He’s always had such a great ability to feel the rush and avoid it within the pocket, while maintaining his base and downfield focus. It’s tough to cover in the NFL, and the longer the quarterback can hold onto the ball (assuming the pressure doesn’t reach him), the better the chance is that a receiver will break open. This is one reason for Brady’s consistent greatness. When the design of the play is covered and the defense has won early, Brady can avoid pass rushers, hang in the pocket and beat the defense late in the play.
Brady has total control over his offense. He is very good at getting his team into a good play at the line of scrimmage, and he has great coverage recognition skills. He stands out with his ability to recognize mismatches between his receivers and their defenders in coverage. When one of his better receiving tight ends, Rob Gronkowski (or Aaron Hernandez a few years ago), is matched on a slower linebacker or a smaller defensive back, Brady recognizes it and gets him the ball. When Julian Edelman (or Wes Welker for 6 seasons) has been matched in the slot on a slower defender and given a two-way option route, Brady finds him and takes advantage.
This is why he has succeeded throughout his career regardless of the level of marquee talent around him on offense. The Patriots passing game hasn’t been about flashy vertical throws of late, but has instead been based on taking advantage of certain mismatches, whether with a tight end, slot receiver, or running back. Brady ends up making a lot of underneath throws that look wide open on television. But there is a reason his receivers looks so wide open on these plays: Brady has identified the personnel mismatch.
One of Brady’s best attributes is his patience. If you give him 6 yards underneath on every play, he’ll take it on every play until you look up and he’s 32-38 for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. This is one reason he has been so good in 2-minute situations throughout his career. When defenses play soft in order to prevent the big play before the end of the first half, Brady takes what they give him and ends up stealing an extra 3 points. At the end of the game, when he doesn’t have any timeouts and the defense gives him the middle of field, he quickly takes it, still manages to stop the clock, gets down into striking distance and throws a game-winning touchdown.
Tom Brady’s accuracy has been outstanding throughout his career. It is one of the attributes that has defined him. He’s always been able to put the ball in tiny windows when he needs to. NFL quarterbacks have to be able to do this, especially on 3rd down when defenses like to unload the kitchen sink with blitzes and disguised coverages.
Brady’s accuracy last season was not quite as good as in years past, however. This wasn’t just because of miscommunication with a young and inexperienced receiving corps. He physically missed throws. This was especially true in the AFC Championship Game against the Broncos. Brady had an opportunity to change the dynamic of that game early, but missed his receivers on what could have been big plays.
Brady has even admitted his accuracy wasn’t as consistent a year ago as it usually is, and he took steps to address it through his mechanics this offseason. Expect Brady’s precision to improve in 2014. Also expect defensive coordinators around the league to have nightmares about him all year.