The highly anticipated debut of Tampa Bay’s Brady on Sunday was highlighted by the 43-year-old’s faults. But how bad was he, really?
“It’s kind of unusual.” That is what Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said about his new quarterback Tom Brady’s performance on Sunday against the Saints.
Arians has been a coach in the NFL since 1989. He was a quarterback coach for the Colts, making him the first QB coach for future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning and an offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh for another future Hall-of-Famer in Ben Roethlisberger. With this, he’s also seen a lot of Tom Brady on the opposing sideline.
So, here are some basic truths: Experience is the mother of wisdom, football (as LaDainian Tomlinson states) is a microcosm of America, and Bruce Arians knows the position of quarterback very, very well. Meaning, for someone like Arians to notice a quarterback’s performance as “unusual” is saying something of immense merit.
From a quick glance, Brady’s first start in his new home of Tampa Bay was a massive disappointment. The most noticeable thing is the score, a 23-34 loss to their division rival: the New Orleans Saints. The next thing is his stat sheet, one that showcased 23 competitions on 36 attempts with 239 yards and two touchdowns. Yet the glaring blemish of two interceptions, including a pick-six, is what will be focused on by people when discussing Brady this week.
The implications outside of the game make it far worse. The Buccaneers decided to step away from quarterback Jameis Winston due to his proneness of throwing interceptions. This is why the organization must have been thrilled to acquire Brady, someone who throughout his 20-season career has averaged less than nine interceptions per season.
With Brady throwing two in the first game of the season, one of which led to a Saints touchdown, it must have been frustrating for all parties involved. Not to mention seeing the success Cam Newton had with the Patriots in Week 1 has allowed for comparison between the two performances, permitting analysts to wonder if New England was smart for abandoning the Brady ship.
Yet some statistics seem to show that Brady was not as bad as his coach thinks. Power Football Focus, a statistical analysis website that gives players an efficiency grade of 0-100, gave Brady an 84.3 score. This was the highest among all players on the field that game and was ranked seventh throughout the entire league. The biggest reason for this was his completion percentage (63.9 percent) and his quarterback ranking (101.5), both fairly high totals.
Beyond this, it is important to note that there was a lackluster performance from the entire offense, not just the quarterback. Back Ronald Jones II failed to run efficiently, averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. Their newest acquisition in Leonard Fournette, who is expected to be the starting back sooner rather than later, ran for only five yards. The receiving crew was inadequate, with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore shutting down Mike Evans throughout the entire game.
According to Next Gen Stats, Lattimore lined up in front of Evans 23 times throughout the game. Through those 23 snaps, Brady targeted Evans only twice, and neither were completions. In total, Evans had one reception. It is also worth noting that on Brady’s first interception, the blame must be placed on Evans, as the receiver thought New Orleans’ defense was in Cover 2 and decided to cut through his route rather than take advantage of the gap in the middle of the field, which is what Brady was looking for.
The offensive line continued to disappoint as well, something that has been a struggle in Tampa’s offense throughout the last decade. Their most reliable lineman in left tackle, Donovan Smith, who is making $14.25 million this season, was called out by Arians on Monday for his disappointing performance.
“I think every now and then he reverts back to some techniques that aren’t very good. He got beat. He had probably the easiest guy to block up there and he did a poor job,” Arians noted during his postgame conference. Brady was sacked three times throughout the matchup, and Smith gave up two of those.
Definitively it was an uninspiring collective effort. But the question still remains for Brady: is it rust or age?
This weekend the 43-year-old was placed in company that can only be explained as unnerving. Brady joined Blaine Gabbert and Matt Schaub as the only quarterbacks to throw a pick-six in three straight games since 2013. To place this in perspective, Brady had thrown only one pick-six from Week 1 of 2016 through Week 16 of 2019. So naturally, despite the evidence only being reliant on three games, the concern of age resulting in a lack of accuracy is now up for debate.
No one can state this as fact until these games progress and his numbers continue to decline. However, a theory that could be made through an accurate accumulation of reasoning can be focused on Tampa’s system — a new system for the six-time champion.
Here is the truth: Tom Brady played under a consistent structure in New England for 20 years, under the same head coach every single one of those seasons. Even the greatest quarterback of all time will need more snaps on the field to adjust to a brand new environment after two decades under the same philosophy. And the team’s sloppy play on offense is most likely the effect of these new acquisitions in Brady, Fournette, Rob Gronkowski and others needing more time to thrive in Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich’s offense. It also doesn’t help that they faced the juggernaut Saints in their first matchup, a team that has won three straight NFC South titles.
Nevertheless, for a competitor like Brady, a performance like this is unacceptable, and he realizes he needs to be better for his team to match such fierce offseason expectations.
“It doesn’t matter how much talent you have if you throw interceptions returned for touchdowns, so I’ve got to correct that,” he said following the game.
Brady wasn’t happy. Arians wasn’t happy. A fanbase that hasn’t seen their team make the playoffs since 2008 wasn’t happy. And in return, Sunday’s performance has made some restless and distressed about Tampa’s championship hopes. If the offense can’t adjust to get their biggest playmakers more involved, then this season will be lost rather quickly. However, let us not forget, we have a long way to go.