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Pro Football Focus explains why Patriots QB Tom Brady had a better season than Falcons QB Matt Ryan

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The football scouting site shares why the Patriots quarterback was better.

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Pro Football Focus (PFF) has spent a good portion of the offseason singing the praises of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady for a multitude of reasons. Brady led their rankings in deep passes and comeback routes. He was their best player of 2016. He also posted the highest grade for a quarterback in the history of the website with a 99.3 score out of a possible 100 points.

Some questioned how Brady was rated so much higher than Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan (93.5), especially after Ryan set incredibly high efficiency marks with a 117.1 passer rating and the third-highest yards per attempt since the merger.

PFF has shared a few articles explaining why Brady’s season was superior to Ryan’s- and why Brady’s 2016 season was better than his 2007 or 2010 seasons.

Ryan led the league with a touchdown on 7.1% of his throws and with 9.3 yards per attempt. PFF notes that Ryan’s high touchdown and yardage rates were raised due to superhuman performances by the receivers, such as Taylor Gabriel’s two 25+ yard touchdowns off of screen passes against the Cardinals.

“Among the reasons for Ryan’s better numbers were his six touchdowns on screen passes (double the next-closest quarterback), as well as excellent support from his playmakers as they accounted for a league-high 42 explosive (20-plus-yard) plays on what we’d call “simple” or “easier” throws in our play-by-play grading,” PFF writes. “On top of that, throw in some interception luck (Ryan finished with seven regular-season interceptions despite 13 “turnover-worthy plays,” a ratio that was luckier than all but eight quarterbacks last season).”

While Ryan should get credit for executing these easier plays that result in explosive production, PFF’s system will always give greater credit to quarterbacks executing more difficult passes down the field and avoiding turnover-worthy plays- and that’s why Brady led their rankings.

“Brady’s two interceptions were very much indicative of his play, as he had only three turnover-worthy plays on the season, setting the record for the lowest percentage of turnover-worthy plays during the PFF era,” PFF writes. “His passer rating of 112.2 was actually lower than it could have been as he had few plays in which his receivers went above and beyond to inflate his stats and he ranked only 37th out of 38 in percentage of his passing yards that came on easy or “expected” throws.”

Not only was Brady the best in the league at avoiding potential turnovers, but his receivers gave him some of the least help in the league on short plays. I feel like this latter fact runs counter to perceptions of the Patriots offense, where many believe that Brady simply dumps the ball off and allows the receivers to generate yards after the catch.

In reality, Brady wasn’t getting the same production off of easy and quick passes as other quarterbacks. Brady led PFF’s quarterback rankings against pressure, without pressure, against the blitz, without the blitz, on third down, on big plays down the field, at avoiding turnovers, and on plays 10-19 yards down the field.

Perhaps the Patriots will improve moving forward in 2017 (and maybe this is why the Patriots acquired a speedster like Brandin Cooks to generate yards after the catch), but in 2016 the Patriots receivers didn’t help out their quarterback as much as they could have.

And when you compare Brady to his 2007 self or his 2010 version, these two reasons (avoiding turnovers and creating big plays) for ranking Brady ahead of Ryan are still in play.

2016 Brady was better than 2007 Brady because he didn’t have a Randy Moss on the receiving end to correct any possible mistakes down the field. In other words, Brady had impeccable placement on deep balls in 2016, while he had more leeway in 2007. I’ve covered the ways where current Brady is superior to 2007 Brady here.

And PFF notes that 2010 Brady benefit from a lot of interception luck, which Football Outsiders corroborates as being at near-2016 Ryan levels. Ryan still had an outstanding year, but his production is apparently a little more bloated due to the prowess of his receivers and some interception luck.

Brady is better now at extending plays than he was earlier in his career and that is reflected in his grades. While Brady can theoretically still make marginal improvements in every facet of his game, perhaps the only place where Brady can really improve is as a runner- and at age 40, that’s probably the one area that the quarterback will gladly concede to his younger peers.