Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Tom Brady might be diminished, but he is not completely cooked. This was one game with a new team against a very good opponent after no preseason. Brady was out of sync with the offense all afternoon, but a significant reason for that was the Saints’ approach on defense – they took away what he does best.
The Saints Defense
After a rough first drive for the Saints Defense, they were able to settle down. The focus of Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen’s gameplan seemed to be to take away the middle, especially those quick and easy inside throws that Brady has lived off of for years. This was especially evident on 3rd down.
The below play was from Tampa’s 2nd drive. This was 3rd-and-9. The Buccaneers went with an empty formation. As you can see, the Saints ended up double-teaming the 3 inside receivers (and also their best receivers) – Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, and Chris Godwin.
The Saints felt good about their matchups on the outside: Janoris Jenkins on Scott Miller and Malcolm Jenkins on LeSean McCoy. With the inside receivers taken away, Brady was forced to throw the ball to Miller, who was tackled short of the first down.
I like Scott Miller. This offseason, I mentioned that he fits that Julian-Edelman quick and shifty profile that Brady loves. But the Saints will take the matchup of Jenkins on Miller all day over the prospect of Tampa’s more dangerous weapons being left in 1-on-1 situations.
From the end zone angle, take a closer look at what the Saints did to Rob Gronkowski on this play (right side of the screen).
Making the big fella have to stop and start at the line of scrimmage is the best way to keep him contained.
On the below 3rd-down in the 2nd half, the Saints again had a plan to take away the inside. They got to it with a little more disguise this time, though. At first, this appeared to be man free across the board with the Saints potentially bringing a blitz.
Post-snap, however, the Saints would once again move to a combo-man look. They were ready to double-team Gronk at the line of scrimmage (although he stayed in to block on this play). And D.J. Swearinger, who initially was showing blitz, dropped out to help on Godwin. Deep safety Marcus Williams moved over top of Mike Evans to double-team him on the outside.
The Saints disguised two double-teams differently than on the previous play we showed. In the end, though, the same concept applied. Take away Brady’s inside (and his best) receivers.
Brady made a few great throws on Sunday against the Saints, but he also made several throws that were uncharacteristically off. His two interceptions certainly come to mind.
A lot was made of Mike Evans stopping his route on Brady’s first INT. And he did. But that ball was forced in between two defenders and high. Even if he kept running, Evans wouldn’t have had a chance. Marcus Williams, who came up with the interception, was deeper than Evans and still had to jump for it.
Notice linebacker Demario Davis (#56) getting under Evans’ route. Again, the Saints were conscious of making it difficult to complete passes in the middle of the field.
From the end zone angle, you can see why the ball was thrown high. Brady was under duress as Cameron Jordan (#94) drove pulling center (Ryan Jensen) back into his lap, making it difficult to follow through. The ball sailed as a result.
More on the pressure in a bit.
Brady’s second INT was just a little bit late but way behind his receiver.
That’s just a bad throw.
One thing to point out is Brady’s stance as he took the snap. Do you notice how his feet are at even depth? That’s new for him, and it’s similar to how Peyton Manning stood throughout his entire career (Bruce Arians was Manning’s quarterbacks coach during his first 3 years in the league, by the way). Brady, on the other hand, has always had one foot in front of the other.
Who knows if this adjustment is still taking some time for Brady to get used to. Perhaps he was a split second late on this interception because of it. Something to watch.
There is one big question that will determine whether the Buccaneers Offense will be good or great this season: Can they protect Tom Brady? Arians’ offense is based on an explosive downfield passing game. These routes require time to develop. That means Brady needs time and space in the pocket to throw. Against the Saints, Brady faced enough pressure to get him uncomfortable.
Focus on left tackle Donovan Smith (#76) here.
Smith had a rough afternoon on Sunday:
If Smith can’t do a better job of protecting his 43-year old quarterback’s blind side, it will be a long year for Brady.
Not New England
One thing to note, Tom Brady took a sack on 3rd down at the start of the 4th quarter. The Buccaneers trailed 24-17 at the time. The next time the Buccaneers had the ball, the score was 34-17 and there were 8 minutes left. How many times was Brady out of a game in New England with 8 minutes to go? Not often. That’s what happens when you don’t always have the advantage on defense and special teams anymore. That’s what happens when your team, while talented, makes too many negative plays in all three phases. Again, that was a rare occurrence in New England.
It’s definitely not time to panic in Tampa. The Buccaneers should be able to get on track at home against a rebuilding Panthers team in Week 2. Despite all the issues that were on display against the Saints, let’s give this team a few games to get their feet under them before we jump to too many conclusions.
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