New England Patriots QB Tom Brady is not supposed to be playing at such a high level at 39 years of age. He should be on a decline. Whether that decline is gentle or steep, Brady should be getting worse.
Instead, Brady has gotten better in each of the past three seasons by adding new tools to his belt. In 2014, Brady learned how to scramble. In 2015, Brady perfected the pre-snap adjustments to optimize the quick-passing offense. This year, Brady has been incredibly accurate with his deep passes.
Brady is currently ascending as a player- and that should make the rest of the league nervous.
After missing the first quarter of the season, Brady has scorched the league with league-leading accuracy and efficiency. Brady ranks first in the league in QBR and DVOA (and in fairness, back-up QB Jimmy Garoppolo would rank 2nd in the NFL if he had played enough to qualify). The Patriots offense has been the most efficient in the NFL since Brady’s return in week 5.
How has Brady improved his deep ball in 2016? Well I’d first point towards the offensive line’s level of play, but then I’d point to this article from Pro Football Focus that highlights Brady’s newfound ability to extend plays.
In 2013, Brady ranked 30th in passer rating on plays that required 2.5+ seconds to throw the ball. Receivers weren’t getting open, sure, but Brady was also overthrowing his targets. In 2014, Brady creeped up to 9th place on the same plays; he ranked 7th last season.
In 2016, Brady leads the league in passer rating on plays that require 2.5+ seconds to throw the ball. Not only is his accuracy up almost 10% since 2013 (45.1% to 54.5%), but he’s buying time for his receivers by sliding out of the pocket and using his quick release motion to reset his technique in a blink of an eye.
In other words, he’s combined his improved mobility and quickness from 2014 and 2015 to become more lethal with the deep ball in 2016.
Brady’s been so accurate that he hasn’t benefit from a single defensive pass interference call this season (all three defensive pass interference calls were against the Texans with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback).
TE Rob Gronkowski has been the best “deep threat” in the NFL this year, while WR Chris Hogan is making all of the plays down the field that Brandon LaFell wasn’t able to pull down in 2015.
Brady’s more accurate than he was in 2007 (73.1% vs 68.9%) and he’s throwing touchdowns at a higher rate (9.0% vs 8.7%). Over the course of a 16-game season, Brady’s 2016 production projects to 5,276 passing yards and 48 touchdowns (vs 4,806 passing yards, 50 touchdowns), on 42 fewer passing attempts.
The Patriots offense might not be as efficient as the 2007 team- that 2007 offense was the best in NFL history- but Brady is playing just as well as he was in 2007. The only difference is the 2007 offensive line was much better and Brady had both Randy Moss and Wes Welker. It’s possible that the 2016 version of Brady is the best we’ve ever seen.
The rest of the league should be very afraid.