Tom Brady obliterates the ‘system QB’ label by thriving in Bruce Arians’ demanding offense

Tom Brady obliterates the ‘system QB’ label by thriving in Bruce Arians’ demanding offense

Do you remember when idiots were wondering how Tom Brady would fit in the Buccaneers offense? And how those same idiots questioned if a 43-year-old Brady possessed the physical ability to operate Bruce Arians’ downfield passing scheme? Remember when they wondered aloud if the Bucs had actually taken a step back at the position by replacing Jameis Winston with a quarterback who was clearly in decline?

Well, if you don’t remember them … it’s nice to meet you. I’m them. I’m idiots. And I’m here to graciously accept my L just a month into the season.

After a five-touchdown performance against a Chargers defense that held Patrick Mahomes in check for about 55 minutes, it appears Brady is doing just fine in this new offense. While the stats aren’t overly impressive compared to what we’ve seen from other quarterbacks this season, Brady ranks third in quarterback play so far according to Pro Football Focus’ grading. And over the last two games, he’s thrown eight touchdowns and averaged 9.3 adjusted-yards-pet-attempt.

Brady has gotten better every week. Before doing the research for this article, I assumed that was the result of Arians making adjustments to his offense to better suit his aging quarterback.

That’s not the case. At all. It’s the same offense, just being run a slightly different way.

We can use the underlying stats that are most influenced by scheme to show there is a clear difference in how Brady is operating this offense compared to how Winston operated a season ago.

Data via Next Gen Stats

Brady is getting rid of the ball quicker, he’s making shorter throws and not throwing into tight windows as often. Those numbers led to me assume that the film would reveal some combination of Arians’ offense and what we saw Brady run in New England, a la Peyton Manning in Denver.

Nope. This is Arians’ offense through and through. It’s the same exact offense we saw Winston running in 2019. The same offense we saw Carson Palmer run in Arizona. And the same offense a young Andrew Luck ran in Indianapolis.

Arians has changed nothing for Brady. The formations are the same…

The concepts are the same, too. For instance, Brady has had a lot of success with Arians’ “Middle Read” concept early on in the season. It’s not terribly complicated, but it’s a typical Arians play design.

The two outside receivers run straight down the field and the receiver running down the middle can adjust his route based on the coverage shell of the defense. If the middle of the field is open, the receiver will keep his route vertical. If there’s a safety in the deep middle, he’ll break his route off and run across the field.

Winston also had success with that concept.

You can see both quarterbacks making the same read on this play-action “Cross” concept. Brady reads it out a little quicker…

But Winston still manages to pick up a chunk of yards with the later throw…

Here’s Brady running another Arians staple, “Deep Curls”…

And here’s Winston throwing an interception on the same concept…

The only thing that’s really changed is the mental process of the quarterback. Whereas Winston was constantly hunting the big play…

Brady has been quick to throw a checkdown and keep the drive humming along…

And that’s really where you find the difference in the numbers I presented above. Brady is on pace for 168 throws to running backs, which would be a 48% increase over what we saw out of this offense in 2019. But those aren’t a new feature of the offense. They were there for Winston to make. He just didn’t make nearly as often as his replacement has. Though Arians probably isn’t too thrilled when it comes at the expense of a downfield opportunity, which has happened more than a few times this season.

That willingness to throw it underneath to a back is really what’s driving the difference in the length of the passes Brady and Winston made in this offense. When you look at Brady’s average depth of throw on attempts to receivers and tight ends, it’s not too far off from Winston’s aDOT on those same throws, 11.4 to 12.5.

That Brady has been more conservative than Winston was last season isn’t surprising. What is surprising, though, is Brady actually making the difficult throws that serve as the foundation of this offense.

He’s making throws we haven’t seen him make in nearly a decade.

Tom Brady has 16 Big-Time Throws (most in NFL)

The last time Brady had 15+ through 4 weeks was 2011. pic.twitter.com/852Y6H088E

— PFF (@PFF) October 5, 2020

Brady hasn’t quite mastered the deep out-breaking route in this offense, but he’s had no problem making any of the other throws. Using Sports Info Solutions’ charting data, I’ve broken down the types of routes Brady has thrown in 2020 and compared it to the routes Winston and Brady threw in 2019.

A key difference in those numbers is the rate at which Brady is taking deep vertical shots. He’s not making them nearly as often as Winston did in 2019, but he has been just as efficient — and far more efficient than he was throwing them to New England’s underwhelming receiver group a year ago.

The passing game hasn’t been quite as explosive with Brady behind center, but his ability to avoid negative plays more than makes up for it. Obviously, he’s throwing fewer interceptions than Winston has, but he’s also taking fewer sacks. The Bucs have improved their pass blocking — Tampa Bay ranks 10th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate after ranking 17th in 2019 — but Brady’s quicker process has helped to drive down the sack numbers, especially on longer-developing plays. On five-to-seven step drops, Winston was sacked on 12.2% of plays. The Bucs have yet to give up a single sack on those plays in 2020.

Brady has been throwing interceptions at a higher rate than he’s used to, but that just comes with the territory of playing in this system, which routinely asks its receivers to alter their routes downfield based on the coverage. There are a lot of kinks to work out in that first year.

Most turnover worthy plays in a single season since 2006

Jameis Winston (2019) – 40

Carson Palmer (2013) – 40

Andrew Luck (2012) – 40

All in their first season with Bruce Arians pic.twitter.com/ym3bWUhqNX

— PFF (@PFF) April 26, 2020

Chris Godwin claimed that half of Winston’s interceptions in 2019 were on the receiver. One of the interceptions Godwin mentioned specifically was identical to Brady’s first as a Buccaneer. Same concept, same misread by the receiver. Here’s Brady’s pick…

Here’s Winston’s…

I’m sure you can find examples of Palmer and Luck throwing that same interception. You aren’t a true Bruce Arians quarterback until you throw one.

While I may have been dead wrong about Brady’s fit in Arians offense, I wasn’t nearly as wrong as those NFL fans out there who truly believe his success has been the product of the Patriots’ system. Considering how much the system has evolved over the last two decades, it was always a ridiculous notion, but now we’re getting definitive proof: Brady’s brilliance is what made that system work. And it’s having the same effect in Tampa.

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