"There's only one stat that matters...I think winning games is the most important thing." - Tom Brady
The latest in off-season mumbo-jumbo has arrived and the conflict du jour is the same as last week: it's all about Tom.
Brady was at a charity event when he was asked about his feelings regarding last week's discussion about him no longer being an elite quarterback. In typical Brady fashion, he deflected from talking about personal achievements and left it with the team results.
"When you come here [to New England]," Brady said. "You learn that pretty quickly that whatever matters to you as an individual, it's far distant to what the team goals are. And the team goals are one thing: to score more points than the other team."
Still, the team ranked 7th in points per drive over the course of the 2013 season, which means there's plenty of room for improvement. Like how the Patriots ranked second in the league (behind the Broncos) in points per drive over the final eight games of the season.
Of course, the actual question that was posed to Brady was, "what statistic is most important to evaluating a quarterback," to which Brady replied, "other than wins and losses?" To which I say, "duh, of course he'll say that."
To Tom, winning is the only stat that matters and any statistical analysis has the ultimate purpose of trying to make a modicum of sense out of a senseless activity. There are too many moving pieces and too many variables for one statistic to tell the entire story of whether a player is good or not. As Tom said, "you can't compare one year to another year, or compare this player to that player." Everyone is in a unique situation.
There are fantastic stats that can weigh the success of one player compared to alternatives. There are stats that can lead to making educated decisions about going for conversion attempts on third and short. There are actually stats that are valid (sorry Tom) when trying to correlate the quarterback's production and the team's chance of winning.
So let's look at those stats. He ranked 12th in 2013 adjusted net passing yards per attempt (ANYPA), which yields the greatest correlation between a quarterback's production and the team's eventual victory [note: the rankings include Josh McCown, who played 8 games, and Aaron Rodgers, who played 9 games]. 12th clearly shows that Brady did not produce like his 2011 or 2012 seasons when he finished 2nd in the league in the statistic.
But anyone watching the games could tell you the same thing. Brady didn't produce like his old self. But anyone watching the games could tell you the obvious reason. He was throwing to nobodies (and he was throwing with a hand that looked like a cantaloupe).
There's no stat that accounts for the injuries that Brady was surrounded with, or the general inexperience. But if we look at the second half of the season- marked with the temporary return of Rob Gronkowski, the final decision to play Julian Edelman over Danny Amendola, the emergence of a viable running attack and return of Shane Vereen, and the growth of the rookies- you'll see a different story.
Over the second half of the season, Brady ranked 5th in the league in ANYPA. And this was a period that Aaron Dobson and Rob Gronkowski only played five games, and Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce played four. Of the eight offensive weapons that suited up for six or more games over the second half of the season, only two were receivers (Edelman and Amendola). The others? The four running backs, fullback James Develin, and tight end Matthew Mulligan. And Brady still ranked in the top five.
We can even use Pro Football Focus' numbers to show how Brady improved over the second half of the season. While Brady undoubtedly struggled against pressure over the season, when he had targets- any targets- he was better than advertised.
During the weeks without Gronkowski, Brady passed for an abysmal 59.4 passer rating under pressure. Remember, these were the weeks where the coaches couldn't decide if they wanted to play Julian Edelman over the half-groined Amendola, where the receiving running back Shane Vereen was out with a broken wrist, and where Dobson and Thompkins were, you know, rookies.
Inject a safety valve with the return of Gronk and his passer rating under pressure jumps to 75.4. That's good for fourth in the NFL. It's ahead of the likes of Drew Brees (75.0) and Matt Ryan (72.03). You know; top five territory.
But the point is that there isn't a stat that that best evaluates a quarterback because it ignores circumstance. I just warped a bunch of stats to show that Tom Brady is still a top five quarterback to help my argument. There are stats that just as easily can argue the opposite.
Brady doesn't care about stats; they're for losers. Brady cares about winning.
This is where we see some of the fire in Brady. This is where he's deriving his motivation. He's listening and he'll have his response come September.