Roughly one year ago, Pro Football Focus' senior analyst Sam Monson published an article stating that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was no longer a top five quarterback. The cornerstone of the argument was that Brady really struggled to handle pressure in the pocket- and when that statement's stripped of the "top 5?!!?!?" connotations, it was a fair evaluation of Brady's play.
Of course, Brady just so happened to learn how to scramble last season, which offered a perfect counter to Monson's evaluation. Monson was evaluating a snapshot of Brady, and the Patriots' quarterback decided to evolve. By learning how to play outside of the pocket, Brady was able to negate interior pressure, while also adding a threat of lumbering five yard run.
To his credit, Monson came out multiple times after the Chiefs disaster to heap praise on Brady, even going as far to say, "Tom Brady is not a Top 5 QB in the NFL. Right now he is No. 1," after the Patriots dismantling of the Broncos in Week 9.
But even with Brady's growth against pressure, he was still not perfect against pressure.
In 2014 Tom Brady's passer rating dropped 57 points when pressured. Only QB to suffer worse was Bortles (62 drop). pic.twitter.com/g3JupMbujy— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 13, 2015
This is a fairly staggering piece of information. According to Pro Football Focus' numbers, Brady's passer rating dropped from 112.7 to 55.5 when the quarterback was pressured. Brady's passer rating was 97.4 when not blitzed, and 99.6 when blitzed, so the most beneficial pressure against Brady comes from the standard four rushers.
When breaking down the numbers, there are a few notes to highlight. First, these numbers include the playoffs. Second, passer rating is an imperfect measure of a quarterback's play, as Pro Football Focus actually has Brady as one of their higher graded passers under pressure. Third, Brady's passer rating under pressure was actually better over the first four weeks of the season, even if his performance was worse, as he threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions under pressure over the first four games, and finished the rest of the season with four touchdowns and eight interceptions under pressure.
I decided to browse Brady's contemporaries on PFF to see how they compared. I looked at Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Aaron Rodgers. Including Brady, that's a list of eight quarterbacks.
Brady's PFF grade of +0.2 under pressure was the third best out of the eight, behind Roethlisberger's +7.8 grade (his passer rating was a crazy 112.2) and Brees' +2.0 grade (passer rating of 60.5).
Brady's passer rating dropped 57 points, while Brees dropped 52 points. Romo, Eli, and Rivers dropped 32-37 points, and Peyton and Rodgers dropped 23-36 points. Roethlisberger improved 14 points under pressure.
Eli threw the ball away under pressure 14% of the time, while Rodgers and Brady threw it away 11% of the time. Peyton threw it away only 4% of the time, and Roethlisberger just 2% of the time. Brady was hit as he threw on 5.9% of his attempts, the most in the whole group. Rodgers led the group getting hit on just 0.7% of his attempts.
Brady's sack rate was the best of the quarterbacks at 11%. Romo was the worst at 25%.
Brady's painted as a very conservative passer under pressure. He'll throw the ball away to avoid a more negative play and he was the most accurate quarterback in the playoffs under pressure.
On the flip side, Brady crammed eight interceptions under pressure in games against the Broncos, Colts, Lions, Chargers, Jets, and Seahawks. Watching them, five were off his back foot and five were picked off at the goal line. Brady really shouldn't be making those mistakes.
The Seahawks' Bobby Wagner's interception in the Super Bowl was the only interception that the tip of the cap really goes to the defense- the rest were just terrible decisions by Brady that he wanted back as soon as he got rid of the ball.
One of the main issues with the pressure against Brady last season was just how fast it started. Teams were reaching Brady in the backfield within a second of the snap; hopefully with an improved offensive line, Brady will be better prepared to face the pressure and use better technique.
But the point stands: Brady still hasn't fully exorcised his demons against pressure. You can be certain that Brady knows and is working to improve.