The New England Patriots offensive line didn’t give quarterback Tom Brady much time in the pocket in 2015. Brady had one of the fastest releases in the league because he would’ve been clobbered if he held the ball any longer than he actually did. The quick passes eventually negated the pass rush and prevented teams from generating as much pressure as they could have registered.
According to Football Outsiders, Brady faced a below-average amount of pressure on just 25.7% of his snaps. Brady likely would’ve seen one of the highest pressure rates if he held on to the football as much as the “mobile” quarterbacks, like Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (31.7%) or Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (30.2%).
To add context, Bengals QB Andy Dalton was one of the few quarterbacks to get rid of the ball as quickly as Brady and Dalton faced the least amount of pressure in the entire league on just 18.5% of his snaps. This just shows the porous nature of the Patriots offensive line in 2015.
Football Outsiders notes that Brady was the 6th best quarterback under pressure by DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) in 2015, which definitely came in handy. DVOA compares how Brady would fare compared to an average quarterback in a similar down-and-distance scenario.
Brady was also the 6th best quarterback when not pressured. When Football Outsiders compared how quarterbacks perform with and without pressure, Brady fared the 8th best in the league, meaning that pressure affected him the 8th least in the NFL.
Context is important, though, because the seven quarterbacks that ranked ahead of him were awful. Bears QB Jay Cutler, Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Browns QB Josh McCown, Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston, and Ravens QB Joe Flacco all ranked in the bottom 50% of the league in performance while not under pressure. Bortles, McCown, Flacco, and Manning ranked in the bottom 25%, with Manning ranking last overall.
In other words, these quarterbacks struggled when they didn’t have a defender in their face, so they couldn’t get much worse.
Brady, on the other hand, was exceptional when he wasn’t pressured and just as exceptional when he was. Four other quarterbacks finished in the same realm as Brady: Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, and, surprisingly, Bills QB Tyrod Taylor. Taylor will be one to watch in 2016.
Football Outsiders has tracked their pressure scores over the past three years (see 2013 and 2014 here) and while Brady has remained fairly consistent when he has a clean pocket, he has dramatically improved in the face of pressure.
In fact, Brady has improved each season from -78.1% DVOA in 2013, to -67.3% DVOA in 2014, and -38.5% DVOA in 2015. For reference, Brady’s 2013 season would have ranked 25th this past year and his 2014 season would have ranked 20th. His improvements have his 2015 performance ranked 6th.
I think a large share of the improvement rests with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has tailored an offense to get rid of the ball quickly and to take advantage of Brady’s skill set. Brady deserves plenty of credit for executing the play calls to perfection. Much like how he has added quarterback scrambles into his tool box, Brady identified his weakness against pressure and has adjusted to improve his overall game.
Ideally the Patriots will improve their pass blocking so Brady doesn’t have to face as much pressure as he did last season. It would be better for the entire offense if his pressure rate better reflected how quickly he released the football.
But if the line continues to struggle to buy time, Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the league that can handle the pressure and keep the offense on track.