In today’s generation, more so than ever, we’re reliant on stats. Fans, media, and experts, not to mention the teams, players, and coaches. It’d be an epidemic if it wasn’t so welcomed.
Numbers are fun. They allow casual observers to learn and understand sports to levels like never before, and they’re used in columns, on radio, and television to make arguments ranging from polite and informative logic to head-in-the-sand obnoxiousness.
And, sometimes, they just get us into trouble.
In the interest of avoiding spoilers, Monson ranks Brady behind Peyton Manning from the Broncos, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees of the Saints, the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers.
To be honest, I half-expected the Colts' Andrew Luck to be listed there.
Let’s dissect some of the argument:
The best quarterbacks are accurate on about 70 percent of passes under pressure (completion percentage adjusted for drops less throwaways, spikes, etc.). Manning had an accuracy rating of 69.0 percent in 2013, and at Brady's peak in 2010 he led the league with an accuracy rating of 70.7 percent on passes under pressure. Since then, however, he has been declining steadily. Last year he was accurate on just 57.6 percent of passes under pressure, 28th in the league.
Consider that Brady had just lost his binky and one of New England’s all-time great receivers in Wes Welker to the Broncos prior to the 2013 season and was without preferred target Rob Gronkowski for the majority of the season due to various injuries. That also ignores the absence of Aaron Hernandez which, as we all know, was necessary and justified but also devastating for business.
Three top options gone, leaving only Julian Edelman (who was great, yes), an injury-riddled Danny Amendola in his first year in the system, no viable tight end in what’s recently been a two tight end offense, and three wideouts in their first pro seasons. For much of the year, those rookies were running the wrong routs, out of position, taking too long to get where they needed to be, or going through other first-year adjustments.
And how about injuries or general ineffectiveness on the offensive line? It wasn’t simply the receiving corps.
Did Brady take too long to get rid of the ball at times? Sure. Did he visibly buckle under pressure on a far-too-frequent basis? No question. He’s also the same guy who’s been accused of “seeing ghosts” on the field as his age advances.
But there are reasons for all of it, beginning with a lack of options – hardly a problem for the elder Manning – and an absence of protection.
The article even acknowledges as much.
People point to his lack of receivers in 2013 as a reason for his comparative down year, but it's worth noting that it was also the poorest performance from the New England offensive line for several years. The unit posted its worst pass-blocking efficiency figure (a measure of the sacks, hits and hurries surrendered per pass-protecting snaps) since PFF has been grading tape, and at best the unit was in the middle of the pack when it came to protecting Brady.
In other words, we’ll willingly admit our argument may be flawed but we’ll make the judgment anyway.
Brady is still extremely effective when he is in rhythm within the offense, but when things start to break down, he is no longer an efficient passer. When he had the ball in his hands for 2.6 seconds or more in 2013, he completed just 45.1 percent of his passes, worst among 16-game starters. His passer rating on those throws was 69.2, worse than all but a handful of replacement-level starters. It is true that his performance spiked when he had a healthy Rob Gronkowski, but that same statement would likely apply to every other quarterback in football.
Again, look at who he was throwing to and the fact he spent more than half the season wondering where they’d be or whether they’d be on the field. It’s also unlike Brady to lose his cool in front of the cameras, but that happened on more than one occasion during a frustrating campaign – even if the 12-4 record wasn’t evidence of that.
Brady should have Gronkowski for most of this season, but obviously we’ve said that before. And before that. The point is, in this scenario of ranking players, it’s only fair to judge a guy by his full arsenal. Manning’s already lost Eric Decker. Suppose Demaryius Thomas gets hurt?
There is no doubt that Brady is still a good quarterback -- his peak was so high that even in the midst of decline there is a lot of room to fall before it becomes a problem -- but there is little doubt at this point that we are witnessing his decline in action. Brady is no longer an elite quarterback. He remains very good, but if the decline continues at the same rate, it won't be long before that is no longer true.
Guess we found a member of Jimmy Garoppolo’s fan club.
Of course Brady is declining. He’s two months away from turning 37! No, Manning didn’t take a step back in his age-37 season, but where would Brady rank on this list if he was throwing to Welker, Thomas, Decker, and Julius Thomas? Top five, I promise.
Brady is one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time, never mind his generation. But, for this purpose – I get it – who cares? We’re talking about 2014, after those two MVP honors, five Super Bowl appearances, three championships, nine Pro Bowl selections, and two First-Team All-Pro nods. Still, I’d challenge you to name five QB’s you’d take on your team this upcoming season ahead of Brady.
Rodgers? Manning? I get those.
But young talents like Luck, Wilson, Robert Griffin III, or Colin Kaepernick? Not for me. That’s not homerism; it’s reality. Ask me who I’d want five years from now? I’d take literally any of those players over a 42-year-old Brady – but not the present-day version. He still has something left in the tank.
How about popular vets Brees, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, or Matt Ryan? Include a couple in your top five if you’d like, but I’ll still pass, pass, pass, pass, and pass if it means receiving Brady.
Which of the aforementioned signal-callers would have put up numbers like 4,343 (6th in NFL), 25 TD’s (11th), and only 11 interceptions (T-7th) while throwing most of his passes to the bucket-of-yuck Brady had to work with in 2013? Maybe Rodgers, Manning, Brees, or Rivers. After that, forget it.
To refresh your memory, he was tossing Austin Collie, Matthew Mulligan, and Matthew Slater in the AFC Championship game. By those standards – and other far more logical ones – Brady had arguably the most impressive year of his lengthy career, all the while trending in the wrong direction.
Don’t get bogged down in the numbers, folks, especially when an entire dissertation is based around one stat. It’s okay to trust your eyes every once in a while. Based on what you see on a week-to-week basis around the NFL, I’ll ask again, can you honestly rattle off five guys you’d rather have quarterbacking your football team than Tom Brady?
Glad I’m not alone.
Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman
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