Tom Brady is a System Quarterback

The Patriots have an intricate offensive system, probably more so than any other team in the NFL. The organization knows how to gameplan for just about any team or scheme. But there has been a history of positional turnover, at least in the time Tom Brady has been the starting quarterback and centerpiece of the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

Taking a look at the coaching staff since 2000, there have been 3 official offensive coordinators: Charlie Weis, Bill O’Brien, and Josh McDaniels. Brady has made it to at least one super bowl with each (3 with Weis, 1 with O’Brien, and 4 with McDaniels). Weis won all 3, O’Brien lost his only appearance, and McDaniels has won 2 so far. Looking further into the success of each coordinator, each can be broken down by their record in each postseason appearance. Weis was present for four seasons, missing the playoffs once (2002) and winning every postseason game Brady appeared in. O’Brien had three seasons with Brady, losing one Super Bowl (2011) and facing one-and-done playoff appearances with losses to the Ravens and Jets(!). McDaniels, in two stints with the team, had a greater variety of finishes. They lost a divisional round game to the Broncos, a conference championship to the Colts, and a Super Bowl to the Giants in his first stint, missing the playoffs in 2008 when Brady got injured. I will return to this point later. In his second stint, they have not failed to reach the AFC Championship game. They have lost to the Ravens and Broncos (twice), and beaten the Colts, Steelers, and Jaguars. Going back to the final season with O’Brien, Tom Brady has been to 7 consecutive AFC Championships, winning 4 and losing 1 (the extra win was against Baltimore with O’Brien, which finished with Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal).

What’s the point of all of this? The point is that with all of these offensive systems, Brady has had tremendous success, though with O’Brien’s the team was eliminated early a few times. He has been league MVP three times and Super Bowl MVP four times. Regardless of the coordinator Brady has been able to lead the team deep into the playoffs in the majority of his time as a quarterback, reaching the Super Bowl in 50% of his seasons and the AFC Championship in 62.5% of his seasons. He has led the league in passing yardage three times, including at the age of 40, and touchdowns four times. Regardless of the offensive system, one constant factor remains: relying on Tom Brady is enough to get you to the playoffs, more often than not deep into the playoffs.

How do we qualify that success? Brady deserves most of the credit, as he has had a revolving door of wide receivers that range from reliable and dominant (Brown, Edelman, Welker, Gronkowski) to briefly great but short lived (MOSS) to bust (Gaffney, Ochocinco, Lloyd, Thompkins, Stallworth, Caldwell). The mediocre-to-bad receivers tend to outnumber the good-to-great ones, especially with Belichick’s tendency to cut or trade players a year or two before age catches up to them. But Brady has managed to play at peak performance with any assortment of receivers, great or terrible, through injuries and inconsistencies.

How, then, do we explain the team’s record without Brady? Since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Brady has missed 20 games (16 in 2008 excluding one series against the Chiefs, 4 in 2016, and about half of a playoff game against the Steelers in 2001/2). In that time, Matt Cassel managed an 11-5 record (missing the playoffs through wild card tiebreakers), Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett went 3-1, and Drew Bledsoe handled one win in the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh. That’s an impressive 15-6 record without Brady. How does that impact Brady’s legacy?

In regards to 2008, 11-5 is a solid record. But with a very similar roster from the previous season, losing Brady made a difference of five games. FIVE games out of 16 is 31.25% of the whole season. That’s like a difference of 50 games in the MLB or 26 in the NBA. It’s a huge difference.

As to 2016, the Patriots were locked and loaded to get their revenge from the year before and from Deflategate. Martellus Bennett and Chris Long were all in for a chance at a ring, and the offense operated more conservatively with the backup quarterbacks in. Garoppolo looked very good in his 6 quarters, but still made a few decisions that Brady would not have made. And while their victories over the Cardinals, Dolphins, and Texans were very good wins, they were beating up on some teams with clear deficiencies and only beat Arizona because of a missed field goal. They were also shut out at Gillette by a mediocre Bills team. Brady then had a near-MVP season the rest of the way, losing only one en route to the greatest comeback of all time in the Super Bowl.

So the title of this post is somewhat true and somewhat facetious. Brady is the system. He is the only consistent part of the offense from 2001 to now, and he’s playing better than ever at the age of 40. To try to diminish that because the team as a whole has had a lot of talent on both sides of the ball (particularly the defense at the start of his career) and god-tier coaching at times is ridiculous.

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Goodbye Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers on Monday evening. I don’t recall a backup quarterback ever having so much intrigue for the Patriots (unless of course you go back to Brady himself, and even with him I don’t remember so much buzz about him in 2000). 

Jimmy was a talented quarterback. His performance in the first game and a half of 2015 were very important in keeping the Patriots at the top of the AFC in Brady’s wrongful absence. Some in the media questioned his toughness when he had a sprained ac joint and missed one game, but I never considered that opinion to be likely. I believed he would be the quarterback of the future for the Patriots, but alas.

It’s unusual to see a dramatic shift in opinion on a player from Bill Belichick. It usually takes a drastic event, like Asante Samuel dropping a super bowl interception, for such a shift. From what I’ve read, and what I’ve seem/heard Bill say, he apparently liked Jimmy a lot. Some have claimed it was Kraft who made the choice, telling Bill that Brady must retire a Patriot (which i have hoped for a long time), and since Brady will likely last a few more years Bill saw the writing on the wall. I do wonder what that means for Bill Belichick coaching the team into the future, if this will impact whether he feels Kraft trusts him or will let him run the team as he sees fit.

Speaking of Brady, it also makes one wonder how Brady felt about Jimmy. Im sure he wanted Jimmy to be a successful player, but it must have been a pain to see the guy many people want to replace you throwing the ball on your field. I’ve heard stories that Brady didn’t like these implications, but it’s obvious that it lit a fire under him that made him perform better (which is honestly hard to believe given his immense talent). This move tells me that Brady will be here for at least a few more seasons.

However things go, Jimmy Garoppolo is almost certainly out of the equation for good. I hope he succeeds in San Francisco and has a long career. Not that he beats the Patriots, but I wouldn’t wish I’ll on him. Thank you for your contributions to the team.

On another note, welcome back Brian Hoyer.

Random Drug Tests

I see this every damn time someone hits multiple home runs in a game (congrats, JD Martinez). Everyone complains about how they’ll get “random” drug tests, and it’s clearly not “random”. It happens every 4/20 too.

Here’s the answer: it isn’t meant to be random. “Random” only applies to the player. The MLB (and NFL, and NBA, etc.) Have the authority to do it *randomly (I.e. at their discretion, without warning the player in advance) as a way of potentially catching a player in the act of cheating. It’s to deter people from cheating. It isn’t random for both sides because there would be no practical benefit for that.

Preseason Predictions 8: The NFC West

The final round of my preseason predictions. Here it is:

1. Seahawks: 11-13 wins

Seattle will have another strong year, contending for a high playoff seed. How they fare in the playoffs is a mystery.

2. Cardinals: 6-9 wins

I think Arizona will finish stronger than last year, but their potential isn’t particularly great. They could contend for a wild card slot, but they’ll be a dark horse if anything.

3. Rams: 5-8 wins

Los Angeles’s season is up in the air, especially since their quarterback situation is a little messy. But now that they’re free from the clutches of Jeff Fisher, their future looks brighter than before.

4. 49ers: 4- wins

Oh my. This team is a hot mess. Guaranteed top 5 draft pick.

Preseason Predictions 7: The NFC South

Another unpredictable division is the NFC South. Here we go:

1. Buccaneers: 9-12 wins

Tampa Bay has the talent to win the division, and Jameis Winston could pull it off this year. They should continue to improve and have a huge impact on the NFC.

2. Falcons: 7-11 wins

Atlanta could have a but of a hangover year after their monumental collapse in the Super Bowl last year. Or they could come out for revenge. Who knows?

3. Panthers: 7-10 wins

Can Newton needs to bounce back. They’ve lost a good chunk of their 2015 postseason team, but Carolina should be competitive for a wild card spot if Newton plays consistently.

4. Saints: 6-9 wins

If they had a defense, they’d be golden. Drew Brees is one of the best passers ever, but he can only carry the team so far. 

Preseason Predictions 6: The NFC North

The NFC North features some of the oldest franchises in the league, including the original Super Bowl winner. Here’s round 6:

1. Packers: 11-14 wins

Green Bay sometimes gets off to a slow start, but when they get rolling they can be absolutely deadly. Aaron Rodgers is pretty much good for 10 wins on his own.

2. Lions: 8-11 wins

Detroit has performed surprisingly well recently. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a small decline, but at the same time 11 wins is a very achievable goal.

3. Vikings: 6-9 wins

Minnesota’s offense is a huge question mark on the 2017 season, especially at quarterback with Teddy Bridgewater returning at some point. I hope they make a run for the playoffs but it seems very unlikely.
4. Bears: 1-5 wins

Oh boy. This team is a hot mess. We’ll see how the rookies perform, but having high hopes for Da Bears is setting yourself up for disappointment.

Preseason Predictions 5: The NFC East

Here we go. Time for the NFC, starting with the most unpredictable division in football.

1. Giants: 10-12 wins

The Giants have been steadily improving for several years now, and I think this is the year they move into first. How long that lasts, who knows.

2. Cowboys: 9-12 wins

Dallas has a lot if question marks. A lot. Particularly around sophomore seasons for Prescott and Elliot. But they should be good, and could easily take first place again over NY.

3. Redskins: 7-9 wins

The Redskins could end up surprising me either way here. I could see them winning more or fewer games than I predict the range will be. Their offense is going through a big change, so the bulk of the uncertainty rests on quarterback Kirk Cousins.

4. Eagles: 5-9 

I think it would be really cool for Philly to upset everyone and take the division, but I don’t see that being much of a possibility. They do have hope for the next few seasons if they draft well, though.