- Adrian Kraus/AP
Tom Brady enjoyed yet another near-perfect performance on Sunday, completing 22-of-33 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots’ rout of the Bills.
Since Brady returned from his four-game suspension, he’s been the best quarterback in the NFL by a significant margin. He is first in all significant statistical categories (completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating, QBR, interceptions), and he is doing this at 39, an age when most NFL quarterbacks are off playing golf on Sundays.
On Monday, Bill Barnwell of ESPN took a deep dive into Brady’s stellar performance of late and chalked it up to several factors. The Patriots are throwing the ball less than in past seasons, Barnwell notes, and are playing at a much slower tempo.
But the most notable factor is that Brady has been extremely successful throwing the ball deep – one of the few elements of his game that had fallen off in the past seasons.
Here, for example, is Brady finding Chris Hogan in stride for a 53-yard score against Buffalo:
— NFL (@NFL) October 30, 2016
By placing a greater emphasis on the run this season – and thriving behind LeGarrette Blount’s bulldozing rushing style – the Patriots are putting Brady in a better position to succeed on the long ball. Play-action, of course, is effective when you have previously established a good run game because it forces the defense to react to the possible run, thus clearing up the field for a long ball.
But as Barnwell notes, Brady is actually throwing deep just as frequently as he has in past years. This year, he’s just been flat-out better.
“From 2013 to 2015, on throws which traveled 16 or more yards in the air (the NFL’s definition of a ‘deep’ pass), Brady’s 80.0 passer rating was only good for 22nd in the league, while his 76.5 QBR was a similarly middling 23rd. Brady completed just 38.3 percent of his deep throws for 17 touchdowns against 13 picks.
“In 2016, Brady has been nearly flawless on those same passes. He has thrown only 21 of them so far, but his QBR on those deep throws is a nice, neat 100 (a perfect QBR score). Brady is 13-of-21 on those passes for 521 yards with four touchdowns and zero picks.”
Put simply, Brady has managed, at 39, to improve upon one of the very few skills that he wasn’t previously excellent at. Remember that last year a 39-year-old Peyton Manning struggled to bend over to untie his own cleats.
The Patriots are unfair – and they will be so long as they have Brady under center.