They can handle Chris Godwin missing games. They’ll get through O.J. Howard being done for the year. A diminished Rob Gronkowski won’t derail their season. Even a Mike Evans ankle injury is manageable. What the Buccaneers can’t handle is pressure on Tom Brady. And that’s what the Bears were able to get in key moments last Thursday. The result was a Buccaneers loss in a game where they were clearly the better team.
Tom Brady is not Patrick Mahomes. He can’t drop back 14 yards or run around to avoid the pass rush. Even though he might be the best pocket-movement quarterback we’ve ever seen, he still needs time, especially at this point in his career. What’s different for Brady in Tampa vs. his time in New England is that he isn’t throwing the ball 10 yards or less from the line of scrimmage on almost every pass. He’s pushing the ball downfield, which is the way Bruce Arians’ offense is designed. At 43, though, he cannot do it with bodies around him. He cannot do it in tight pockets where he is unable to step into his throws. He can’t do it consistently if he has to move, reset, and then quickly get the ball out to keep with the timing of the play. Thursday’s game against the Bears proved this to be the case.
Early in the game, with the Buccaneers leading 10-0, the pressure Chicago was able to generate began to impact Brady’s ability to connect downfield. On the below 3rd down, watch how Brady was forced to move, reset, and get rid of the ball quickly.
Brady had a chance there if he put that ball on Mike Evans instead of leading him. However, the pressure made him have to move in the pocket and rush his throw, which impacted his accuracy.
It doesn’t matter what your age is. The ball has to come out on time to be able to connect downfield, as you can see on the above play. That’s why pass-rush pressure against downfield passing games can be so detrimental. Brady was almost always able to navigate great pass-rushing teams in New England because of the Patriots’ quick passing game. In Tampa, things have been a bit different so far.
As Thursday’s game went on, you began to see the Bears get quick pressure on Brady. This sack came in the beginning of the 3rd quarter:
The below play came on the Buccaneers’ next drive. This was 3rd-and-27. There really aren’t many good 3rd-and-27 plays in offensive playbooks around the NFL. That said, Arians seemed to have one dialed up here. Unfortunately, Brady wasn’t able to connect.
You can’t entirely blame Brady for missing this touchdown here. Pressure was closing in, and it appeared that he was unable to follow through completely, which impacted the throw.
By this point in the game, the Bears were starting to get enough pressure on Brady to make him uncomfortable. Watch this sack right off of the top of Brady’s drop on Tampa’s next drive.
There’s nothing more disconcerting for a quarterback than turning your back to the defense on play-action and then turning around to find a pass rusher in your face. Brady saw this enough against the Bears to make him start to lose trust in his line. He didn’t believe he’d have time to sit in the pocket and work through his reads. This led to him predetermining throws and locking on to receivers.
On the below 2nd-and-17 (the very next play), watch how Brady locked on to running back Ronald Jones to his left. Brady looked at Jones immediately after the snap, didn’t come off of him, and basically threw the ball away when he realized he wasn’t open. However, he had the time to come down to tight end Cameron Brate (aligned in the slot to the right) sitting in the middle of the field.
That’s not like Brady. How many times have we seen him easily move through his reads at that intermediate-to-short level and find the open receiver. Those are the types of little plays that have made Brady so great over the years. Just when a defense thinks they have him cornered because it’s 2nd-and-long, he takes the 8-9 yards they give him and gets into a manageable 3rd down (where he often converts).
So what happened on this play? The cumulative effects of pressure. It doesn’t matter if the quarterback is 43 or 22-years old. No one wants to get hit. Brady missed an open receiver here because he anticipated not having time to work through his reads.
The Buccaneers ultimately settled for a go-ahead field goal before the Bears came back to take the lead. Brady still had one more chance to rally his team to victory, but we all know what happened next. He thought it was 3rd down when it was really 4th down.
What can I say about this? It’s embarrassing, but it happens (probably more than we all know). People were making way too much of it because it was Tom Brady. The bigger issue was that Brady again predetermined his throw and forced a ball to a receiver who wasn’t open at all. Had he just checked the ball down to his running back sneaking out of the backfield, he would have had an easy first down.
Again, Brady had the time. He didn’t trust that he would, though. This is what pressure does to a quarterback. It makes him think he won’t have time to work through his reads, so he picks the best matchup pre-snap and forces a throw to him come hell or highwater. The end zone angle gives a good view of Brady staring down his receiver.
In New England, even in years where the offensive line wasn’t that good and you thought the next great pass-rushing team coming to Foxborough was going to crush Brady, the Patriots neutralized any threat with their quick passing game. They also didn’t commit the mistakes and penalties that we saw from Tampa last Thursday. Both are aspects of the game that Brady is not accustomed to. The combination of sacks and penalties led to Tampa facing 3rd-and-10 or more on six of their final seven 3rd downs against the Bears (Four of those six were from 15 yards or more). It’s tough to stay on the field when you’re living in 3rd-and-long situations.
Despite the incorporation of certain elements of the Patriots passing game, the Buccaneers Offense is still a downfield passing attack. This makes it almost entirely reliant on great pass protection to be successful. If Tampa can’t provide that for Brady, you’ll see more games where the Buccaneers lose to less talented teams.
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