With the Patriots defense rounding nicely into oh-god-New-England-is-going-to-another-Super-Bowl-aren’t-they form right on schedule, it’s fair to wonder when their boys on the offensive line would follow suit. Just a couple weeks before Halloween, which already seems like forever ago because we spend all year waiting for football season and then it just flies by, Tom Brady had been popped 50 times in just 5 games, according to NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran. That breaks down to 16 sacks and 34 quarterback hits, and also presumably breaks down to a lot of Case of the Mondays in the film room.
It got so bad that our fearless leader Rich Hill touched base with Zoltan Buday from Pro Football Focus to find out if our eyeball test was really why Brady was getting annihilated by All-Pros and “who’s THAT guy?” alike. Short answer: it’s basically everyone’s fault. The line needed to hold blocks better, the backs and tight ends in pass pro needed to block better, Brady needed to get rid of the ball faster, and the receivers needed to get separation faster. So, in other words, like a guy I used to play in a band with used to say when we screwed up, “Suck less”. Gotcha.
As Bill Belichick’s teams tend to do, especially in recent memory, the team seems to be picking up steam on both sides of the ball right as we’re watching the end of the World Series and debating the merits of cooking the turkey in the oven vs. frying it. You’d think with the offensive line being just as banged up as any line in football this year - center David Andrews has missed the last two games, and tackle Marcus Cannon has missed the past three - things would get worse before they’d get better.
Hope you didn’t bet the rent on that. New England’s line isn’t fooling anyone into thinking they’re suddenly The Hogs now or anything, but the offense is rebounding to the point where they’re looking more like the 2016 version of the New England Patriots, and less like the 2017 version of the New York Giants offensive line.
(What, you didn’t think we’d let the week that Eli Manning gets benched for no reason go by without busting on the team that let him down, did you? We may have a special type of hate for Eli up here, but it’s not his fault he has approximately 0.06 seconds to throw the ball every dropback.)
So how much better have the Patriots been at keeping Brady’s jersey clean? They’ve limited the hits over the last few weeks to the point where now, TB12 is getting clocked right at the same rate as he has for the past five seasons, as opposed to, you know, a literal record-setting number of sacks and hits like we were on pace for after the Bucs game.
In other words, being average is better than being historically bad and potentially getting the greatest quarterback of all time decapitated.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss crunched the numbers today and found that Brady’s taken 59 hits so far this year. (For reference, when I said Brady had taken 50 shots by Week 5 earlier, that’s combining sacks and hits). By ESPN’s numbers, Tom’s been sacked 24 times and hit 59, but those 59 hits are right in line with what’s normally gone down since 2013, which, perhaps not coincidentally, would’ve been the year after Josh McDaniels took over as offensive coordinator.
Observe how many hits Brady’s taken through Week 11 since 2013 (from ESPN):
2017: 59 hits
2016: 54 hits
2015: 64 hits
2014: 54 hits
2013: 58 hits
I don’t care how pliable you are, getting hit less is better than getting hit more.
Of course, it always helps when left tackle Nate Solder is balling at the level we all know he’s capable of balling at:
The highest graded OTs in Week 12 pic.twitter.com/OS6QRijJ0P— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 29, 2017
New England heads up north to the land of burning tables this weekend to take on the Bills, who seem to have made a deliberate decision to go from impressive wild-card contender right back to being...well, the Bills.