New England Patriots QB Tom Brady spent the offseason trying to improve his deep ball and he’s been wildly successful en route to the greatest season ever by a 39+ year old quarterback.
Including the playoffs, Brady tied for the 2nd most touchdown passes from deep passes (defined as 15+ yards by the NFL) and held the 2nd best passer rating of 127.1 (behind Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott: 128.7). Compare that production to other seasons by 39-year-old quarterbacks (2015 Peyton Manning: 67.8; 2008 Brett Favre: 53.1) and it’s clear that Brady’s performance is unprecedented.
Brady used the deep ball to move down the field against the Houston Texans, but he was nearly perfect against the Pittsburgh Steelers, hitting 5 of 6 passes for 139 yards and 2 scores for a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
A key development for the Patriots deep passing game has been the emergence of WR Chris Hogan as a premiere deep threat after the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski. Hogan finished the regular season ranked 2nd in the league in yards per catch, behind only Washington WR DeSean Jackson. During the playoffs, Brady has connected with Hogan on 8 of 9 targets for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Hogan was the target for all six of Brady’s deep passes against the Steelers.
The Atlanta Falcons present one of the stingier defenses when it comes to giving up deep passes, ranking 12th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. If Brady and Hogan find a way to connect against the Falcons, then the Patriots offense will be accomplishing the unexpected and will likely be producing at a high level.
The Patriots will have to be aware of the Atlanta deep ball, too, since Falcons QB Matt Ryan ranked 3rd behind Brady with a 122.6 passer rating. Including the playoffs, Falcons WR Julio Jones has 27 receptions- tied with Steelers WR Antonio Brown for the most in the league- and 686 receiving yards- 2nd most in the league. Curiously, Jones only has 1 receiving touchdown of 15+ yards through the air.
The Patriots defense ranks 16th in the DVOA rankings of deep pass defense, but they’ve buttoned up in the playoffs. They’ve allowed just 4 of 17 (23.5%) for 98 yards, 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions, with the touchdown coming in garbage time against the Steelers.
If the Patriots can hit on a few of their deep passes against the Falcons, while the New England defense stops Matt Ryan and company, then the Patriots will be well on their way to a fifth Super Bowl title.