Not a lot has gone right for the Patriots Offense of late. Tom Brady, in particular, has had a very difficult mid-season slide. In his last 5 games, he’s completed under 55% of his passes for less than 6 yards per attempt and has played to a QB rating of just 79.9. Some of the issues are clearly related to his lack of trust in his receivers. Some of the issues are related to his lack of trust in the offensive line (right tackle Marcus Cannon got beat with speed rushes off the edge multiple times on Sunday night). But Brady also deserves much of the blame. He’s simply performing in uncharacteristic ways.
On Sunday in Houston, facing 3rd-and-goal from the Texans’ 5-yard line on their first drive of the game, Brady missed what should have been a touchdown. Focus on Phillip Dorsett, who was aligned as the outside receiver in the trips bunch formation to Brady’s right.
Dorsett ran a dig route to the back of the end zone. The only defender that could take away his route was about 8 yards in front of him on the goal line.
Brady threw the ball out of the back of the end zone, though.
There were multiple components that contributed to this missed opportunity. First, it did appear that Dorsett stopped running out of his break. Perhaps he wanted to sit in the window to Brady’s right so the underneath linebacker couldn’t climb and disrupt the throw. It looked like Brady wanted him to keep running so he could hit him in the second window on the other side of the linebacker, though. Either way, it appeared that Brady could have hit Dorsett quickly in that first window or put the ball overtop of the underneath linebacker (again, there were about 8 yards of separation).
But Brady also had time to wait for the next window in what was a clean pocket against a 3-man rush. From the end zone view, you can see that he moved when a blue jersey flashed in front of him. He was over-reactive to pressure that was not there, his feet broke down, and he never reset. Instead, he rushed and made an off-balance throw.
The Patriots settled for 3 points instead of 7.
Facing a 3rd-and-4 on their next drive, Brady made a costly mistake, firing an interception to Bradley Roby.
A few things here – First, the intended receiver N’Keal Harry did a poor job. It is a cardinal sin for a receiver to let his defender cross his face and beat him inside on an in-breaking route. It simply can’t happen. As a receiver, you have to fight to stay in front of the defender. You have to cut your route off early, come back to the ball, box the defender out, or if no other option exists, tackle the defender and take the penalty. Harry did not fight to stay in front of cornerback Bradley Roby here.
That being said, this route was never really open to begin with. The Patriots aligned in a trips bunch formation to Brady’s right on this play. The “hole defender” immediately moved towards the trips bunch at the snap to provide support and create a 4-on-3 advantage for the Texans.
With the underneath middle open, Brady looked to his backside in-breaking routes.
Unfortunately for Brady, he missed an open Jakobi Meyers (#16) in the middle of the field, instead electing to throw the ball to a tightly covered N’Keal Harry.
Take a closer look from the broadcast angle and watch how Brady’s feet moved parallel to the line of scrimmage right before he released the ball.
This isn’t egregious footwork by any means. But it shows that Brady was not ready to sit in what was another clean pocket and drive the ball downfield to an open receiver. It almost seemed like he had predetermined that he was going to make this throw to Harry after looking right initially.
Later in the first half, Brady missed another potential big play. Focus on the crossing routes in the middle of the field from Julian Edelman and Jakobi Meyers.
Meyers would break wide open. You can see that Brady had another clean pocket from which to throw.
But Brady didn’t hit Meyers. Instead, he checked it down.
After Brady came off his first receiver to the left sideline, did his feet look like they were ready to drive the ball downfield?
The end zone angle provides a better look. Brady, in fact, did not look ready to attack downfield. As his eyes moved towards the middle of the field his feet did not follow completely. This left James White as the only viable option underneath, since an accurate downfield throw to Meyers with enough velocity would have required Brady to reset and step up. By that time, the open window would have already been closed.
Another missed opportunity. Two plays later, the Patriots would punt.
When a quarterback doesn’t maintain a good throwing base as he works through his reads, it becomes difficult to be as effective late in the play. The quarterback has to either deliver the ball while not stepping towards his target (as you saw on the first play), commit to a throw in the direction his feet are already facing (which might not be the best option as you saw on the INT), or reset his feet after he has decided to throw the ball (giving the defense more time to react).
On the above play, Brady should have been able to pull the ball down, move his eyes and feet to scan the field, and complete this pass to an open Jakobi Meyers in the middle of the field for a big gain.
We’ve written multiple times how feet mean everything for a quarterback. This is especially true for Brady. His feet are what have made him the special QB that he is. His accuracy, field vision, poise in the pocket, and ability to avoid sacks are all only possible because his footwork has been so superb. If Brady’s feet aren’t there, he becomes a JAG, as you saw throughout Sunday night’s game.
We don’t mean to take away from the Texans’ game plan. They had a great approach. Their priorities were to take away Julian Edelman in obvious passing situations. They also gave a lot of attention to James White.
Below was one of our favorite double-team looks of the night. Do you see Julian Edelman on the right side of the screen? Do you see Justin Reid all the way on the other side?
Reid would end up helping double Edelman on this play, another 3rd-down incompletion for New England.
The Texans did a great job of double-teaming Edelman all night and mixing up where the help came from.
With his favorite targets getting extra attention, Brady had the opportunity to take advantage of 1-on-1 matchups elsewhere. His receivers couldn’t win consistently. When they did, Brady wasn’t always ready to hit them, as shown above. Whether it’s a trust or communication issue, whether Brady’s injured elbow is worse than the Patriots are letting on, or whether Brady is just getting too old to move in the pocket well enough to be as effective, this current Patriots Offense is as inept as we’ve seen them since the 2013 season.
There’s always a time each year when analysts start declaring that the Patriots dynasty is finally over. It seems like we’re just entering that point of the 2019 season. Maybe folks still haven’t quite realized that while Brady’s skills might be diminishing, the same sort of drop-off isn’t occurring for his head coach. Bill Belichick gets better and more experienced by the day without his ability to perform at the highest level being impacted by diminishing physical ability.
During last season’s Super Bowl run, where Brady was inconsistent and made some uncharacteristic mistakes (similar to the last several games this season), the Patriots still beat everyone. That run should have reminded us all that as long as Belichick is on New England’s sideline, the Patriots should still be Super Bowl favorites until they’ve been outplayed for a full 60 minutes in a playoff game. The question is not if New England will adjust. The question is how.
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