We’ve come a long way since the 2019 NFL season, when Aaron Rodgers was no longer an “elite” quarterback and Tom Brady was a washed-up bum who couldn’t throw the ball beyond ten yards anymore. Sunday’s match-up will pit the two oft-criticized future Hall of Famers against each other after a start to the 2020 season that has defied all the offseason narratives surrounding each player.
After several subpar seasons, Rodgers is arguably the league leader in the early season MVP race, playing the most efficient and explosive football of his career. Brady has been one of the few consistent bright spots of a rollercoaster Bucs offense, giving his team a chance to win every game he’s played in this season.
Few would argue with the fact that both have played terrific football through Week 5, but it’s also important to note how they’ve done it. According to Pro Football Focus, Sunday’s match-up between Brady and Rodgers will feature the two deep ball-heaviest passers in the NFL, with both quarterbacks attempting 30 passes of 20 yards or more this season.
That’s nothing new for Rodgers, who has ranked in the top three in deep ball attempts per PFF for every healthy full season he’s played since 2015. For Brady it’s a return to normalcy, as he’s always been an aggressive downfield thrower of the football, but last year finished 13th in the NFL in long ball attempts. Back in 2017, Brady was third in the league.
Armed with deep threats and premier weapons at wide receiver once again, Brady is airing it out early and often through five games. While he and Rodgers have both thrown 30 passes of 20 yards or more this season, Brady has one more completion on such throws (13 to 12) and has had three deep passes dropped to Rodgers’ one. That makes Brady’s adjusted completion percentage significantly higher than Rodgers at 53.3 percent to Rodgers’ 43.3 percent, per Pro Football Focus.
In fact, for all Rodgers’ aggressiveness, he’s actually the 20th most accurate deep passer in the league this season, compared to Brady who is now 12th after an 0-6 performance against the Bears on Thursday Night Football. Brady was fifth in the NFL before that contest.
Both quarterbacks have piled up production on the deep ball this season, with well over 400 yards each on throws of 20 yards or more. Rodgers has always been among the top performers in that category, regardless of the players around him, where Brady’s game is once again adapting to his skill players and his system, as it did for so many years in New England.
Sunday is destined to be an incredible chess match between two of the oldest and still two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, as Rodgers attempts to trump Brady’s rapid decision-making and willingness to consistently trust the structure with some newfound on-schedule play of his own, after gaining a reputation as a freelancing quarterback over the past few years.
Can the Bucs defense force Rodgers back to the over-thinking and over-reliance on low percentage throws that has plagued his play in recent years? Can the Packers defense impact the pocket enough to force Brady to make plays on the move and outside of structure, something that isn’t within his wheelhouse as a quarterback?
Each quarterback has few flaws, different strengths and one shared trait that should resonate throughout Sunday’s game from the opening kickoff to the final whistle: aggression, aggression, aggression. Expect fireworks in the passing game to dictate the day on Sunday, and whichever quarterback can be more efficient on the tough throws may emerge as the victor by game’s end.