New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked 16 times this year, exceeding the 15 sacks he took in 12 regular season games in 2016. I’m sure you’ve heard that stat by now. It’s the fault of the offensive line, they say. Tom Brady isn’t feeling the pressure, others say. It’s the result of a more vertical offense, some say.
How about a simple answer: It’s all of the above.
I spoke with Pro Football Focus’ Zoltan Buday to get some breakdowns on how the Patriots offense has changed from 2016 to 2017 and he gave some great insight. Here’s how Brady’s changed the depth of his drops from year to year.
Note: the columns don’t add up to 100% because of alternative dropbacks.
We can see that Brady increased his number of 7-step drops by 35% and decreased his shorter 3-step drops by more than 26%. This aligns with how Brady’s been throwing deep more often this year.
And when quarterbacks take deeper dropbacks, they’re more susceptible to sacks. According to Buday, quarterbacks that take 3-step drops are sacked on 2.9% of plays, while those that take 5- and 7-step drops are sacked on 8.3% and 9.4% of plays, respectively.
Based on these figures, we can project that Brady is expected to be sacked 16.7 times through five games in 2017, which is exactly in line with the 16 sacks that he has taken. So the protection hasn’t been terrible- it’s just been “average,” which represents a decline from our expectations.
Using the same math, we can also project that a league-average offense would have been sacked 33 times based on Brady’s 2016 dropbacks. Brady was sacked just 15 times, though, which means that he was twice-as-able to avoid sacks last year than league average.
And so that’s why the 2017 protection seems like a problem. Brady has historically been very good at avoiding sacks and hits and while the more-vertical offense exposes him to more opportunities to be hit, Brady still shouldn’t be taking the league-average number of sacks.
The offensive line needs to protect better. Brady needs to feel pressure better. The receivers need to get open on time. There’s room for everyone to improve.