Dealing with internet trolls comes naturally with the territory of being a Pats fan. The Patriots have been one of the best teams in the league for the more than a decade now, and that means two things: a lot of people hate them, and a lot of people hate you for liking them. And I can live with that. I don't mind the Spygate barbs, or the "18-1" jokes because I know that if I was the on the other side, I'd be saying the same things. But there's one thing I've heard countless times over the years that makes me sick to this very day: the idea that Tom Brady is a "system" QB, and that he owes all of his success to Belichick. Every time I hear someone make that insipid argument, I come a bit closer into morphing into the Incredible Hulk.
It's not just Patriots-haters on message boards who trot out this argument, Plenty of articles have been written about this subject over the years, including three just from Bleacher Report (one of them comes from the "anyone can write for Bleacher Report days," but still....).
Of course, the madness doesn't stop with the kind folks at B/R. No, ESPN got in the action, too, back in 2011, when Brian Kenny called him overrated. Granted, he still ranked him 15th on his top 25 QBs list (lower than I would have him, but still not bad), but he still seemed to cling to the notion than Brady's success was somehow fraudulent, that it was outside forces pushing him to success rather than his own hard work and talent.
Okay, let's get to business and talk about why calling Tom Brady a "system QB' is moronic. First off, the concept of system quarterbacks shouldn't even exist in the NFL. It's the highest level of professional football there is. That means if you can throw for 40 touchdowns in a season while you're team goes 12-4, you're good at your job. Maybe your coach is good at his job, too, and that gives you a little boost, but you're still pretty amazing.
The concept of the system quarterback is relevant in the college level because it gives us a way of separating the QBs who truly have what it takes to succeed at the higher level from the ones who are merely benefiting from a high-powered system that wouldn't work in the NFL. It's what allows us to separate the Cam Newtons from the Collin Kleins.
In the NFL, though, there's no higher place you can go. You've made it. Using the system QB argument as a means of putting Brady below, say, Peyton Manning is pretty much meaningless. Even if Manning is a bit better (and Lord knows that's a highly contested debate), Brady is still great.
And really, what pro quarterback hasn't benefited from working with good coaches? Would anyone place the System QB tag on Joe Montana because he lucked into playing with Bill Walsh, one of the most brilliant minds in football history? He developed an offense that revolutionized the game! Even Belichick can't make that claim. Bart Starr got to play for Vince Lombardi, Dan Marino got to play for Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson, and Roger Staubach got to play for Tom Landry. Great quarterbacks learning from great coaches is hardly anything new, and yet, Brady seems to get more flak for it than anyone else.
But now, let's take a look at the specific case against Brady. The most common argument is "look at how good Matt Cassel did in 2008." Oh, you mean when he threw 29 fewer touchdown passes, and won five fewer games than Brady did the year before? Yeah, you're right, I guess that does prove Brady is a fraud. Of course, these folks will inevitably turn to Brady's 2009 season, when he struggled a lot more than usual as the Pats finished 10-6. This, however, is a blatantly dishonest argument because Brady was obviously not fully recovered from his knee injury yet, and anyone who watched the Pats that season was all-too-aware of this. Matt Cassel is pretty similar to Tom Brady at 70 percent of his full potential, which is about where he was in 2009, but he's nowhere near Brady at the peak of his powers.
The dumbest part of the Cassel 'comparison is that Cassel's best season didn't even come when he was with the Pats. No, it was in 2010, when he threw 27 touchdowns and only seven picks with the Kansas City Chiefs. Much like in 2008, he benefited from an extremely weak schedule, leading the Chiefs to a playoff berth they probably didn't deserve. So, if Bill Belichick is so good at propping up mediocre QBs, how come Cassel had his best season in a year where his coach was Todd Haley, who failed miserably as a head coach except for that one year when the schedule worked in his favor? The holes in this argument are just getting bigger and bigger.
After more than a decade of greatness, it should be obvious that Tom Brady's talent is not a mirage. Yes, Belichick is a great coach, and Brady has benefited from learning from him, but that just puts him in the company of every other great QB in NFL history. No one does it without being helped from a coach. The concept of a "system QB" is barely relevant in the NFL, but even if it was, it wouldn't apply to Tom Brady. He's one of the best ever, and while learning from Belichick was important, his brilliance on the field belongs to himself more than anyone else.