Tom Brady suffered from a devastating injury that cut his 2008 season extremely short. In a rusty 2009, Brady was unfairly expected by everyone to return to his 2007 form and, after he was unable to do so, was considered to have helped lead the Patriots to a let down of a season. A big question on my mind is how will Tom Brady do in his second year back from injury?
Looking at quarterbacks with ACL injuries, there's no clear pattern for when they return to top form.
1) Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers. Rivers tore his ACL in the 2007 playoffs. He has improved as a quarterback each year, despite losing his accompanying running game. Improved after injury.
2) Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles/Washington Redskins. McNabb tore his ACL during the 2006 season. He's more of a mobile quarterback and has seen his rushing stats diminish since his injury. However, from a pure passer point of view, McNabb performed at a lower level for two seasons before recovering in his 3rd season back. His decrease was lightly due to his lack of rushing ability- he was unable to run so he started to pass more. He threw shorter passes, which led to an increased completion rate, but saw his interceptions increase as well. As a quarterback, I would say that he remained constant after his injury. No Change after injury.
3) Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals. Palmer tore his ACL in the 2005 playoffs and was rushed back in time for the 2006 season. He has been riddled with injuries ever since. However, in the seasons where he was not injured, his level of play decreased. He became less accurate, less of a touchdown threat and more of an interception liability. He lost his down field ability. Worsened after injury.
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Because of this inconsistency in respect to returns from injury, we're unable to determine what Brady will do in his second season. This is why it's important that Brady try his hardest to succeed- because whether or not he succeeds is all up to him.
Comparing Brady to his 2007 season, we see the following changes:
1) Decrease in wide receiver quality. Brady struggled to produce in 2009 due to changes in the wide receiver position. The difference came in two different places: Randy Moss and the #3 receiver.
Moss became less of a vertical threat; whether that is the fault of Moss's injuries or Brady's inability to connect, the bottom line is Moss was less effective as a receiver. If Brady and Moss get on the same page again in 2010, look for Brady to improve as a quarterback.
At #3 receiver, the Patriots went from Donte Stallworth to Sam Aiken. Stallworth collected 66.6% of the passes thrown to him. Aiken caught 47.6%. The lack of reliability in the 3rd receiver caused opposing defenses to shift towards Welker and Moss, preventing Brady from utilizing his top weapons. Should a true #3 receiver emerge, Brady should improve as well.
2) Less accurate with the football. Wes Welker actually caught a higher rate of passes in 2009 than in 2007. Brady became less accurate in two key positions: Down field and under pressure.
Looking at Pro Football Focus data from 2007 and 2009, Brady lost his down field consistency. His accuracy on passes of over 20 yards decreased from 44.4% to 27.7%. That's a 17% decrease- large enough to be concerned. His passes of 10 to 20 yards dipped from 62.5% to 59.5%, but I don't think that decrease is large enough to be concerned- I could attribute that to the lack of a #3 receiver (aka: Sam Aiken).
Also, under pressure, Brady became a lot less careful with the ball. Whether that's because he was afraid of being hit, or just because they were bad throws, I don't know. I do know that Brady thew 8 interceptions under pressure in 2009, against 2 in 2007. If Brady regains confidence in his legs to stay in the pocket and follow through on his passes, perhaps he'll throw fewer interceptions.
3) Regression to the norm. Looking at Tom Brady's numbers from earlier in his career, we see a clear return to his career average. Whether or not 2007 was an extreme outlier, I'll wait for this upcoming year to say, but it appears as if Brady is going back to his earlier career numbers. While he became more accurate in 2009 than in his earlier years, the increase in short passes spike up Brady's pass completion rate; a clear effect of Welker being a large part of our offense. Brady's 2009 numbers fall in line with the rest of his career- 7.8 yards/attempt, mid-high 20s (23-28) of touchdowns and low teens (10-14) of interceptions.
We cannot predict how Tom Brady will perform in his second season back from injury. It seems as if in Brady's first year back, he returned to his normal career averages.
Let's hope he steps up his game in 2010.