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The Patriots’ offensive line needs to protect Tom Brady better

Related: Tom Brady is one of the NFL’s most accurate deep-ball quarterbacks this season

New England Patriots vs Baltimore Ravens Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

One of the New England Patriots’ top priorities entering (almost) every game over the last (almost) 20 years had to look like this: keep Tom Brady clean. It’s a simple-sounding task, but one that can very well be the difference between winning and losing — look no further than Super Bowl 42 or the 2015 AFC Championship Game. Brady can make magic happen, but as is the case with every other quarterback the rest of the team needs to cooperate as well.

And so far this season, his ability to create said magic has very much been dependent on whether or not he had the time and space to do just that. Advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus has given Brady just a 44.7 grade when he drops back to pass while under pressure, compared to a 93.4 grade when playing from a clean pocket. This contrast in performance becomes even more visible when looking at his statistics:

Tom Brady pressure statistics

Status Attempts Completions Completion % Adjusted completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Passer rating
Status Attempts Completions Completion % Adjusted completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Passer rating
Not pressured 260 198 76.2 81.9 2,151 10 2 109.6
Pressured 95 32 33.7 55.7 385 4 3 47.9
Pro Football Focus

As can be seen, Brady’s numbers across the board get worse when he is pressured: he is less accurate, throws fewer touchdowns and more interceptions, and posts a lower yards-per-attempt statistic. All of this has to be expected, though, as no quarterback in the NFL is getting better when he is facing pressure. The problem, however, is just how comparatively ineffective the future Hall of Famer gets when opponents disrupt him.

Brady’s passer rating of 47.9 ranks him as the fourth-worst starting quarterback in the league under pressure, while it is simultaneously his worst since PFF started charting players in 2006. For comparison, he ranked 15th in the NFL in passer rating when pressured last season (71.2). The year before that, he led the league with a 96.6 mark. Of course, he also only achieved a 53.4 during a 2014 season that ultimately ended in a Super Bowl win.

The impact that quarterback rating can have on the overall success of a team can be disputed — passes that are thrown away are part of the equation, for example, but preferable to sacks or other negative plays that are not — but the bigger issue still remains: Brady’s performance while facing pressures leaves some to be desired, and the drop in adjusted completion percentage from 81.9% to 55.7% illustrates this very clearly.

So, where does this leave the Patriots? Above all else, they will need to find a way to protect Brady. Getting back starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a toe injury in Week 2, should certainly help in this regard: Wynn’s replacement, Marshall Newhouse, has been highly inconsistent and is responsible for 21 of the 74 pressures New England’s blockers have surrendered through nine games this season.

Despite that, however, the team still ranks among the best in football when it comes to pressure rate at this point of the season: Brady has been sacked, hit or hurried only just 29.7% of his drop-backs so the protection has actually been fine most of the times (PFF, meanwhile, has New England ranked as the 13th best pass-blocking team in football). That being said, the quarterback’s statistical drop-off resulting from the pressure cannot be ignored.

If Wynn’s return plus the added time the rest of the offensive line has spent together — center Ted Karras, for example, replaced David Andrews just shortly before the season began — can improve the Patriots’ pass protection and give Brady just a few more clean pockets to work with, there is little doubt he can work his magic again. At this point in time, the 42-year-old’s success is closely tied to the level of pressure a defense applies.

The Patriots need to make sure this level is kept at a minimum.