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“I’m going to work on my speed,” said Tom Brady, referring to his offseason plans days before Super Bowl LV. “I see those guys running around. I’ve got to make a few of those plays.”

It sounded ridiculous. But eight months later, the 44-year old quarterback is better than he was at 43. It’s not just because he’s more acclimated to Bruce Arians’ system, though that’s also true. He has legitimately improved, and it’s reflected by his 68.5 completion percentage, 2064 passing yards, and 18 total touchdowns to only three interceptions through six games.

Brady currently ranks third amongst starting quarterbacks in EPA/play despite a handful of unlucky and massively negative EPA plays such as Chris Godwin’s fumble near the Cowboys’ goal line, Leonard Fournette’s dropped pass for an interception, or an end-of-half Hail Mary interception. Pro Football Focus seeks to isolate individual player performance, and they have Brady graded as the best quarterback in the NFL thus far. 

A common talking point when Brady signed with Tampa Bay was his supposedly diminishing arm strength. 

Unless the comparison was to 2007, his arm looked good in 2019. It was comparable to 2014 through 2018, during which Brady won three Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVPs and one league MVP. Regardless, whatever arm strength he was alleged to have lost was clearly back in 2020.

There was one thing that had diminished, though. With the Patriots, Brady was a master of subtle movements within the pocket. He’d slide step and evade interior pressure. He’d climb up and nullify edge rushers. He had a sixth sense for pressure while keeping his eyes downfield. Sure, he wasn’t Michael Vick, but until last year, he wasn’t a complete statue either. An extra half-second here or there can make a world of a difference.

At 43, it seemed like the regressed mobility was just a part of the aging process. Then the news of Brady’s torn MCL came out. Buccaneers quarterback coach Clyde Christensen told CBS Sports Radio that the team was aware of the issue from the beginning. 

“When I first met him, he said, ‘Hey, my knee’s not 100 percent. But with the tape job and stuff I’ll make it through the season. And after the season we’ll get her fixed up’”.

The morning after being named MVP of Super Bowl LV, Brady told Christensen that he was going to fix his knee and be better next season. “You’re gonna be excited about that,” said Brady.

The greatest quarterback of all time has delivered. Again.

He’s done more than just regain the subtle movements, too. Brady’s improved mobility started becoming obvious as early as Week 2.

On third-and-2 against the Falcons, Brady escaped a collapsing pocket and converted the first down himself. When asked about the scramble, Brady couldn’t help but grin, as if he had pulled off the unlikeliest of heists.

“I’m thinking, ‘Let’s throw it, let’s throw it. Oh my god, I can see really well. Who’s open? Let’s throw it. Oh my god, what am I doing out here? Let me run forward and get on the ground as fast as I can.’”

The following week against the Rams, Brady sidestepped from the pocket and gave himself an extra second to find O.J. Howard for a short pass that went for a first down. 

On the very next play, Brady ducked under an interior pass rusher and ran the ball himself.

Brady kept using his legs even when the game was likely out of reach. Late in the fourth quarter, Brady escaped the pocket with Aaron Donald closing in. He ran the ball again and set the Bucs up with a fourth-and-short.

In a low-scoring slugfest against the Patriots that was decided by two points, Brady and Chris Godwin ignited a crucial scoring drive at the end of the first half. The Bucs’ receivers were blanketed by the Patriots’ man coverage. With protection beginning to break down, Brady rolled right and fired a perfect pass to Godwin who came open with the extra time. The game might have ended differently if not for the out-of-structure play.

Later, trailing 14-13 in the fourth quarter in a must-have moment on third-and-6, Brady called his own number and picked up the first down on the ground.

 

Brady ran again the next week against the Dolphins to set up a field goal attempt.  

“Do I look faster?” asked Brady after the game. “I feel fast. Most of the guys in the NFL probably make like 30 yards on a run like that. I turn a 30-yarder into a 10-yarder better than anybody.”

In the second half with the game still close, he delivered an accurate pass while on the move to Godwin to convert a third down.

The Buccaneers were trying to ice the game against the Eagles when they faced third-and-7. Philadelphia showed a two-high look pre-snap, and the Bucs wanted to take advantage of the middle of the field. However, at the snap, the Eagles rotated down into Cover 1 Robber, with a safety taking away Antonio Brown’s crossing route. Brady rolled out of the pocket and AB immediately changed his path to get open. The pass wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to be a back-breaker as the Bucs picked up a first down and moved into field goal position.

Tampa Bay’s offense would have benefited plenty from Brady just regaining his in-pocket mobility. For him to make plays outside of the pocket is overkill. Yes, the slides and step-ups are back, but no one could have expected Brady to start throwing dimes on the move. He’s doing that and tucking the ball himself on occasion. In fact, the Bucs feel so confident in Brady’s ability to throw out of the pocket that they’re even designing bootleg passes for him this year. It’s an added dimension of the Tampa Bay offense that opponents now must prepare for.

Only a handful of plays were shown here, though there were plenty more to choose from. Not all of them worked. And he certainly hasn’t become Patrick Mahomes outside the pocket, either. But that’s not the point. The point is that Brady is giving the offense a chance to succeed on plays where the ball would have gone in the dirt last year. He’s already the best in-structure quarterback ever, but for him to improve the out-of-structure part of his game at 44 years old is just absurd. Then again, when it comes to Tom Brady, what isn’t absurd? 

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About the Author: Paul Atwal

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inspecto
inspecto(@inspecto)
1 month ago

I planted my avocado tree today
G0 Bucs !!!

IDGABuc
IDGABuc(@idgabuc)
1 month ago

I’m so glad you guys pointed this stuff out and had so many examples because I thought he’d gotten much better movement in the pocket and out of structure as well. Great job pointing it out. Forget regressing, the ol” GOAT apparently means it when he says he wants to improve every year! (I have to say I was a little bit disappointed not to see the POV from the yard marker where he got 7 on 3rd and 6 and was grinning like a little kid from his back! Classic)

Benjamin
Benjamin(@jammin8519)
1 month ago

What Tom did for the Bucs last year was insane to me. They were the first team to ever win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. That’s a memory I’ll have forever and he looks like he is going to amaze us again this year. I have been very surprised by his roll outs and the escapes he’s made this year.

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
1 month ago

Who knew Tom Brady had a sense of humor when paired with the expressionless BB?

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