After the 2012 season, I decided to evaluate New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady like he was a baseball pitcher. The idea was fairly simple.
A quarterback's accuracy is currently graded by his completion rate and while some may factor drops into the score, it's not a full picture.
If passes are right on the money, directly into the hands of the receiver, this is great work by the quarterback and the player. Other passes require an extension by the receiver to make the play, and these passes should be credited to the receiver.
These scores are just as much about the relationship between Brady and the receiver as it is with Brady's accuracy. There are clear miscommunications, such as Rob Gronkowski running the wrong route in the red zone. Watching Brady transition from throwing to Dion Lewis to James White makes it clear that each receiver has a different relationship with Brady as a route runner (and that Lewis runs much tighter routes).
I've broken down each player by distance of the pass and by location on the field to try and see if Brady has any evident strengths or weaknesses in his game.
Through three games, Brady's been pretty much on point; 69% of his passes have been right into the hands and chests of his receivers. An additional 23% have been an arm's length away, where the receiver made the play to bring the ball in for a catch. Only 9% of his passes have been way off target, not including his three throwaways and two batted passes.
Of the 11 passes that were off target, six were overthrows on the deep ball. Two have been in the ground at the feet of Rob Gronkowski in the left flat, and three have just been wide of the target.
Preference to the short left
Brady has thrown more strikes to the left side of the field, within 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, than in any other direction. Of his 47 passes to the short left, 32 have been direct strikes and another 11 have been catchable. Julian Edelman (15 targets to the short left), Dion Lewis (11), and Aaron Dobson (6) have been the primary benefactors to the short left.
In comparison, Brady has thrown short to the middle 26 times and short to the right just 24 times. While his accuracy to the right is not very different from his accuracy to the left thus far in the year, his 2012 data shows that Brady is better throwing to his left. As we track the data this season it will be interesting to see if he's worked on and improved his throws to the right side of the field.
Praise for Aaron Dobson
It might be slightly surprising to note that the Patriots third-year receiver is 4th on the team in targets, behind Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Lewis. Of Dobson's 11 targets, 10 of them have been right on target, with just one pass that was slightly more work for Dobson to grab.
Yes, Dobson has a drop. Sure, he's not as involved in the passing game on an every-snap basis as Edelman or Gronkowski. But he's clearly on the same page as Brady and he's been where he's supposed to have been on every pass attempt. That's one definite way to stay on the field and continue to be a factor on offense.
Stop sending Julian Edelman deep
Speaking of Dobson, can the Patriots stop sending Julian Edelman deep down the field on fly routes? Edelman has been the target of five passes between 10-20 yards down the field. That's totally fine: he's been right on target on all of them.
But Brady and Edelman have only connected on one of their five passes 20+ yards down the field, and the failure is the same story every time. Edelman doesn't have the stride to separate on a straight line down the field. Dobson, on the other hand, does. Why not give the young guy a chance to have his own section in the play book?
Rob Gronkowski is everywhere
I have Rob Gronkowski with six targets 20+ yards down the field, eight targets between 10-20 yards, and 14 targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He has catches on the left side, in the middle, and on the right side. He plays everywhere and he does it all.
Julian Edelman also plays on all sides, with 15 targets on the left and on the right. Between Gronkowski and Edelman, opposing teams will have no idea where the Patriots are going with their talent or with the football.
Points to review
Three games of football isn't enough to truly show full tendencies, so it will be interesting to see how the Patriots change over the course of the year.
Has Brady really improved on his throws to the right? Will the Patriots finally use the correct talent on these fly routes? Other than one play to Dion Lewis, is Josh McDaniels keeping his patented wheel route pass to a running back under lock and key?
There's plenty to monitor and look for. What are you interested in seeing?