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Tom Brady and Peyton Manning: Old Men Don't Throw Deep

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The Patriots quarterback threw short passes at the highest rate in the league.

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There's a lot of debate about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the accuracy of his deep ball. Some point to his accuracy on long passes and how his completion rate has been in steady decline since 2007, with each year worse than the prior. Others will say that his receivers have been in such flux over the past few seasons, whether due to injury or integration, that he hasn't had the opportunity to develop a rapport with the deep ball.

Maybe Brady is declining. Maybe he's plateauing (and in support of this argument, Brady featured a top 10 deep ball after Week 4 of last season, once the offensive line was set, Rob Gronkowski returned from injury, and Brandon LaFell picked up the offense).

Regardless, Brady doesn't throw the deep ball as often as his peers. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Brady threw 58.3% of his passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, by far the highest rate in the league. He throws short for good reason: he's one of the best in the league at dissecting a defense. There's no need to throw the ball deep, with a lower success rate, when you can move the ball at will on shorter plays.

Brady ranks in the bottom ten of passes 11 to 20 yards down the field, and also shows up at the bottom of the list on passes 21+ yards down the field. While Brady ranks at the top of their grades on short passes, he shows up middle of the pack on mid-distance throws, and towards the bottom on long passes.

Another quarterback who shows up alongside Brady is Peyton Manning, who actually threw fewer passes 21+ yards down the field than Brady. While the Patriots drew up 21.3% of their plays deep, Manning threw 20.9% 21+ yards.

This plays to Manning's strengths- or lack thereof- as he wasn't able to place the ball with the same accuracy as in seasons past.

Of the top quarterbacks in the league, Peyton (20.9%), Brady (21.3%), Aaron Rodgers (23.1%), Matt Ryan (23.4%), Joe Flacco (24.5%) and Drew Brees (26.1%) throw deep on a fairly low percentage of their throws compared to Andrew Luck (29.2%), Tony Romo (29.5%) or Matthew Stafford (30.1%).

The best quarterbacks find a way to mitigate risks, and that involves being selective with the deep throws. Brady and Manning understand this and won't force a ball deep just to show that they can. They're more willing to take the quick and short throw to move the chains and extend the drive, and only throw deep if the opportunity presents itself.