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Film Review: Patriots QB Tom Brady is Houdini in the pocket

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Breaking down Tom Brady’s most underrated strength: his skill in the pocket.

NFL: New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints USA TODAY NETWORK

There are a lot of things that make Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all time, and we got another reminder of that in Week 2 against the Saints.

This time around it wasn’t the high level of difficulty on the throws Brady was making. Instead, Brady dominated the Saints with one of the most underrated aspects of his game: his incredible feel in the pocket, and his clinical ball skills on play action fakes. The things that Tom Brady does to manipulate defenses from inside the pocket are often taken for granted, as they have become routine for #12, which makes it look easy.

I’m here to tell you that it’s not easy.

Brady’s ability to move his feet, reset, and deliver accurate throws after eluding rushers is special, and his attention to detail on various types of play-fakes should be applauded. You can tell by the smoothness in which Brady operates within the pocket that he has put a ridiculous amount of practice time into perfecting his craft. There’s simply no other way to become that proficient at it.

The Saints defense lived up to its reputation in being awful against the Pats last Sunday, but Brady’s day was still extremely impressive due to how easy he made it all look.

Below, I will go over the various ways in which Tom Brady dismantled the Saints defense with his next-level ability with the football in his hands.

Pocket Movement

Over the course of his career Tom Brady has been called many things, but fast is certainly not one of them.

Having said that, Brady’s pocket movement is underrated, and he’s extremely light on his feet for a guy that doesn’t have blazing speed.

That comes from hours and hours of quarterback drills behind Gillette Stadium, and in the mountains of Montana.

There are three elements that I want you to pay attention to in the following examples: his awareness, where his eyes go, and his ability to deliver accurate, on-time passes after moving.

Let’s start with a play that ends with an uncharacteristic drop in the end zone by Rob Gronkowski. This is why the headline of this piece is that Brady is Houdini-like in the pocket. Both Saints edge rushers think they have a sack on the play, but Brady somehow splits both of them with a climb and duck move. He then resets, all while keeping his eyes downfield, and delivers a perfect pass to Gronkowski that throws the big guy open. I mean, come on.

It must be a joy for offensive linemen to play with Brady, especially tackles. He gets the ball out in 2.5 seconds, has great awareness, and is just freaking awesome. On this play, he shows off the feel in the pocket knowing that the rush is coming around the edges, and sees the spot that he can step up into to make the throw. Again, all while keeping his eyes downfield. There are very few quarterbacks that can complete the process of avoiding the sack, and then deliver a pass with that kind of accuracy.

We will end this section with the big touchdown to Gronk. Brady is nearly sacked again off the edge, and the pocket is collapsing around him. He climbs the pocket, resets his feet, finds Gronk, and delivers a pass with perfect touch on it that leads Gronk downfield. Brady almost jumps on the release to get enough on the pass to get it to Gronk, and somehow he keeps his eyes downfield while all this is going on.

Brady consistently creates big plays and saves himself from getting sacked with his pocket movement, and uncanny awareness (the guy sees everything).

As illustrated by the Gronk touchdown, his ability to buy more time in the pocket for his receivers to uncover downfield consistently produces big plays for the Patriots offense.

Ball Handling/Fakes

Before you laugh at me saying Tom Brady is good at ball handling, let’s just take a minute to appreciate the greatness (I know you’re all immature, and already laughing). Brady has been asked about how he developed his skills on play action fakes and other plays of the type, and his response is what you’d expect: he practices, a lot.

It’s not just the smoothness in which Brady pulls off the different fakes, but also the way he sells them. He’s no Leonardo DiCaprio, but for a quarterback he’s a damn good actor, and he throws a number of subtle fakes that you might not notice right away as well.

Early on in the game the Patriots ran two end arounds with Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett that went for a combined 20 yards. That made the Saints defense weary of the action for the rest of the game, and the Pats used that to run play-fakes off of it for big plays. Notice how smoothly Brady fakes the handoff to White, then the end around, and then slides to his right to create the window to drop the screen pass off to White. The fake is executed perfectly, and it leaves the Saints defense scrambling to catch White in the open field. Brady makes it all look so easy. Also, check out the cut by James White to make the first guy miss, disrespectful.

On this play, don’t pay attention to the routine play action fake to James White. Instead, watch Brady’s upper body, and eyes. He turns his shoulders and moves his eyes to the left, which gets the linebacker to jump in that direction. Brady then comes back to Hogan on the other side of the linebacker for the big gain. Brady is extremely good at using his body and eyes to move defenders where he wants them to go. That subtle fake creates the throwing lane to Hogan, and thus a big play for the Pats.

Another staple of the Patriots offense is the quick play-action fake into a slant route to an outside wide receiver. #12 not only brings the ball down like he’s handing it off to Gillislee, but also slouches his shoulders down, taking that next step to sell the fake. We then get a glimpse of that lightning fast release, as he unloads this pass so quickly to Cooks that there’s no chance of the linebacker getting underneath the route. This play is nearly unstoppable given that the receiver beats his man on the slant, because the fake brings the defense to Brady’s right, and the throw comes back to the left, leaving nobody underneath to stop it. Side note, this seems like a perfect play design for Brandin Cooks.

Finally, here’s one of the best designed plays of the game for the Pats from the end zone angle. First, notice how well Brady sells the play fake to Dorsett on the screen. You can’t blame the Saints defense for biting. The Patriots run screens like this one all the time, and Brady sells the fake not only with his upper body, but with his feet too. Then, he has the ability to release the pass to Hogan in a split second, which was necessary given the immediate pressure applied by the Saints defense. The accuracy on this pass given how quickly he had to attempt it, and the pressure in his face, is ridiculous, and it allows Hogan to gain all that extra yardage after the catch.

Conclusion

As stated earlier, this wasn’t an all-time Brady game in terms of throwing ability or difficulty. For example, this wasn’t like Super Bowl 51 when Brady was threading the needle pass after pass when the other team knew what was coming: The Saints defense was as bad as advertised, and Brady and company won this game when they arrived at the Superdome before kickoff.

However, we were treated to another terrific example of how Tom Brady has continued to play at such a high level despite his declining arm strength (which is obviously normal for a 40-year-old). The future Hall of Famer has mastered the quarterback position. Not only as a passer, but also the nuances from inside the pocket that are deadly, especially against a vulnerable defense.

The Patriots got back to their roots on offense against the Saints. Unleashing a number of creative play designs aimed at keeping Brady’s passes shorter than in week one against the Chiefs. When Brady is dominating the game at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, and from within the pocket, he’s nearly unstoppable.