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Tom Brady: Patriots offense is “Graduate-Level”

The GOAT is here to explain why some guys get the Patriots offense and others, to put it nicely, do not.

New England Patriots v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

If your family’s anything like mine, it’s one of the questions you get almost as often as “So are you dating anyone?” at Thanksgiving and Christmas:

“Have you thought about grad school?”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that grad school’s not quite the same as undergrad when you could show up in basketball shorts and a band t-shirt, pay attention for 10 minutes, pass out mid-lecture, update my fantasy football lineup, and shotgun 38 Rockstar Energy Drinks before finals, so, even if a few Patriots players think an MBA is “fun” and a “welcome change from football” really seems like it’d cut into my 20 hours of watching football on weekends, and Mondays, and even Thursdays, among other things.

The list of Patriots receivers (and running backs and offensive linemen, for that matter) that’ve attempted to learn the New England offensive playbook and struck out is almost as long as the list of “who?”-type dudes that Bill Belichick has turned into local legends, household names, and occasionally, even All-Pro superstars. And isn’t it a bit weird that even though we hear a lot about how innovative and LOST-level-complicated the Patriots offensive playbook is, we don’t really ever hear many details about WHY it’s so tough and separates the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, and the awkwardly feminine from the possibly Canadian?

Leave it to Tom Brady himself to explain, and - let’s just get this straight for the self-aggrandizing meatheads that are somehow paid six figures to talk about this stuff - see, if you ask him about football, Tom loves to talk about football! Wild, right?

From NESN:

“I would say receiver is a challenging position in our offense,” Brady told WEEI. “We have a very graduate-level type of offense, and it takes a lot to learn. It’s just not easy. Not easy for rookies, not easy for veterans. It’s a lot of work. It’s time-consuming.”

“If we’re going to be effective on offense, we’ve got to have a lot of people out there that can process information quickly and make adjustments and everything changes week to week. Everything’s a big adjustment, and guys who handle it and compete and have the skills do a good job, and that’s typically guys who — we’ve had a few over the years — that can pick it up and understand it.”

“Josh is a very intense coach, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Brady added. “It’s not going to work for everybody. I mean, that’s just the nature of the NFL. There’s a lot of offenses I could go into that I wouldn’t work at very well. But that’s the way it is.”

Gonna have to call BS on that last assessment of your skillz there, Tom, but please go on.

“We had, certainly to start camp, depth, and we just — certain things haven’t worked out the way that we had hoped and certain players would have hoped. But that’s football,” Brady said. “… I don’t think anyone feels sorry for the New England Patriots, I’ve said that before. So, we’ll just try to do the best we can do, and hopefully it’s good enough.”

Want more on how complicated this offense is to learn? Of course you do. Check this out, courtesy of Chris Brown of Smart Football, writing for Grantland in 2013...

...hold on, I need a minute.

R.I.P. in Peace, Grantland, and damn you, ESPN, for axing the only good thing you ever got your hands on besides the OG Sportscenter anchors.


Since this was written right after the 2012 season, when the Patriots had replaced their ‘07-’10 shotgun spread offense with a two-tight-end offense that was bamboozling defenses all over the league all over again, keep that glorious offense in mind.

(I’m going to cherry-pick a few quotes here to make my point, but definitely read the whole thing and I guarantee it’ll put an evil smirk on your face the next time Brady runs no-huddle and goes from a 2-back set with the tight end in line and 2 receivers playing wide to a 5-wide look the next play with the same personnel.)

The backbone of the Erhardt-Perkins system is that plays — pass plays in particular — are not organized by a route tree or by calling a single receiver’s route, but by what coaches refer to as “concepts.”

So, starting with that, it’s the exact opposite of your flag football team where your QB just points to you and goes “9”, and you go deep.

Each play has a name, and that name conjures up an image for both the quarterback and the other players on offense. And, most importantly, the concept can be called from almost any formation or set. Who does what changes, but the theory and tactics driving the play do not.

Why is that important, three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis?

“You can cut down on the plays and get different looks from your formations and who’s in them. It’s easier for the players to learn. It’s easier for the quarterback to learn,” former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said back in 2000. “You get different looks without changing his reads. You don’t need an open-ended number of plays.”

For a specific example:

The theory here is that no matter the formation, there is an outside receiver, an inside receiver, and a middle receiver, and each will be responsible for running his designated route. For the quarterback, this means the play can be run repeatedly, from different formations and with different personnel, all while his read stays effectively the same. Once receivers understand each concept, they only have to know at which position they’re lined up.

The personnel and formation might cause the defense to respond differently, but for New England those changes only affect which side Brady prefers or which receiver he expects to be open.

That, in a nutshell, is what they mean when they say if you’re a receiver in New England, you don’t just learn your routes, you learn EVERY route on the play. Throw in Brady’s love of audibles based on the defensive look, the option routes that can make the difference between a guy like Julian Edelman sprinting right into coverage or into nothing but green grass, and, oh, sometimes you’re going to need to do all that while you’re going no-huddle and sprinting back to the line to line up in a different formation than you did last time.

THAT’S graduate-level.

Remember that next time you want Dez Bryant or someone like that to come in and learn the playbook by kickoff.