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FAB 1. Is There A Rift Between Brady And Arians?
In this week’s SR’s Fab 5 I want to take you inside the Bruce Arians vs. Tom Brady rift, feud, power struggle – whatever you want to call it.
Except that I can’t – because there isn’t a rift or feud or power struggle between Brady and Arians.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to use a click-bait title to get you to read my column this week, but much like an intervention where the person who needs the intervention is manipulated into coming to a family gathering for help, I had to get you here for this edition of SR’s Fab 5.
It’s important for you to know that there isn’t a rift between Brady and Arians during the 7-5 Buccaneers’ bye week despite what the national media is trying to create for drama – because drama equals ratings.
Now it doesn’t mean that everything is rosy in the relationship between Arians and Brady, as I think there is some mutual, professional frustration over things not being perfect offensively yet, but there are a couple of very important elements that everyone should understand before taking everything that ESPN (and I’m not talking about Bucs reporter Jenna Laine), CBS football analyst Tony Romo or former Patriots linebacker and Brady teammate Rob Ninkovich say as the gospel.
Talking heads like ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, Romo and Ninkovich do not know what is going on between Arians and Brady – nor do I necessarily. They are simply interpreting what they’re seeing on Sundays and making conclusions.
By all accounts Brady is a very private individual, and if he does feel like venting a bit – as perfectionists are prone to do when everything doesn’t go their way – to a former QB like Romo or a former teammate like Ninkovich that’s understandable. But any conversation that Brady may have had with either of those former NFL players was one-sided without Arians’ input, and could have been interpreted by Romo or Ninkovich differently than Brady intended.
So as a Bucs insider, let my do my own interpreting as to what may be going on with this 15th-ranked Tampa Bay offense that happens to rank seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 28.7 points per game.
By the way, that mark currently ranks as the highest-scoring team in Bucs history – beating last year’s mark (28.1 avg.) – so folks, it ain’t all bad at One Buccaneer Place.
Brady had several offensive coordinators in New England, including Charlie Weis, Bill O’Brien and Josh McDaniels, during his two decades there, and the offense changed over the years depending on the personnel. Different plays, different play-callers in different years. Did some of the concepts carry over from year-to-year for continuity sake under head coach Bill Belichick?
Of course, but every NFL offense has the same routes – slants, corners, skinny posts, verticals – whether it’s in New England or Tampa Bay. The difference is how those routes are packaged in what personnel groupings, and when and where are those plays called within games.
In 2004, the Patriots rushed for over 2,100 yards behind Corey Dillon’s 1,635 yards while Brady passed for 3,692 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions en route to a 14-2 record and a second Super Bowl championship.
In 2007, the Patriots went 16-0 and lost in the Super Bowl to the Giants with Brady throwing for more than 1,100 yards than he did three years prior with 4,806 yards. He also had a career-high 50 touchdowns, including 23 to Randy Moss, with just eight interceptions, while New England had the league’s 13th-ranked rushing attack.
In 2010, Brady passed for only 3,900 yards with 36 touchdowns and four interceptions in a very balanced offense the NFL’s ninth-ranked running game led by 1,000-yard rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis and his 13 touchdowns. The Patriots went 14-2 before being upset by Rex Ryan’s New York Jets in the playoffs.
In 2011, New England’s offense leaned on Brady and the passing game much more, as he passed for a career-high 5,084 yards with 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while the Patriots had the league’s 20th-ranked rushing attack. The 13-3 Patriots lost another Super Bowl to the Giants that year.
When the Patriots had receivers that had the speed to go deep like Moss, Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks over the years, Brady threw deep often and accurately. When he didn’t, like in 2019 after Rob Gronkowski retired, Julian Edelman was the primary receiver and the Patriots resorted to more of a quick passing game with greater regularity out of necessity.
The second myth is that Brady is not a good fit for Arians’ vertical-based passing game. To think that Brady didn’t know what he was getting into when he came to Tampa Bay is asinine. Brady was a free agent and studied not only the Bucs’ weapons on offense, but also Arians’ scheme and knew it was vertically-based. Brady chose to be here for that reason, as well as Tampa Bay’s receivers.
Brady started the season hot with successful deep passes and then went into a stretch where he had trouble connecting on deep throws before a nice rebound game against Kansas City on Sunday where he completed 4-of-7 passes over 20 yards.
Just because an NFL analyst may have played in the NFL doesn’t make him an expert on what is going on with a particular team. Because I’ve covered Tampa Bay for 25 years on a daily basis I know far more about the Buccaneers than former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was just flat out wrong in his analysis on Showtime’s “Inside The NFL” this week, without me having played a down of football past high school.
“Why is Tom Brady throwing the ball deep?” Marshall said. “That’s not what got him those championships. He’s a dink and dunk quarterback. He comes from a balanced offense where they run the ball and then they play-action. That’s what Tom Brady has done. If he is truly calling these plays and picking these plays, then we have to address his ego. Because that’s not what got him those Super Bowls.”
Yes, Brady has performed well using play-action, and the Bucs could probably incorporate more of those plays down the stretch, but to call Brady a dink and dunk quarterback is an insult, and just plain wrong based on the deep ball statistics I presented. Brady talked about throwing deep after Sunday’s game against Kansas City.
“Just better execution,” Brady said. “We can’t hit every throw, so if we miss it, we miss it, but we’re going to keep taking them.”
Does that sound like a quarterback who doesn’t like throwing – or doesn’t want to throw – the deep ball? Nope.
How about the running game? Does Brady need a balanced offense to win championships as Marshall suggested? No, and the facts bear that out.
Patriots Run Game Rankings In Brady’s Super Bowl Years
2018 – 5th ranked run game – Win 2017 – 10th ranked run game – Loss 2016 – 7th ranked run game – Win 2014 – 18th ranked run game – Win 2011 – 20th ranked run game – Loss 2007 – 13th ranked run game – Loss 2004 – 7th ranked run game – Win 2003 – 27th ranked run game – Win 2001 – 13th ranked run game – Win
As you can see from the table above, Brady has won Super Bowls when the Patriots had a top 5 and a bottom 5 ground game, and he’s also lost a Super Bowl with a top 10 running game, so that’s not a magic bullet.
Does Brady like to throw the ball to running backs? Of course he does in check down situations, and players like Kevin Faulk, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White all became favorite targets over the years in New England.
But Brady likes throwing the ball to tight ends, too. Gronkowski had four 1,000-yard seasons in New England, and Aaron Hernandez came close one year with 910 yards.
And Brady is also fond of throwing the ball to wide receivers – not just slot receivers like Edelman and Wes Welker in New England. Moss had two 1,000-yard seasons with Brady in New England, Cooks and Troy Brown each had one, and three others – Brandon Lloyd (911), Brandon LaFell (953) and Deion Branch (998) were awfully close to being 1,000-yard receivers.
Now let’s address a final myth – and one that Marshall mentioned. Whose offense is this anyways – Arians’ or Brady’s?
This is Arians’ offense and has been the entire time, and that hasn’t been a mystery.
We reported that during the offseason when the Buccaneers signed Brady, and again when he and his teammates worked out together over the summer on the football field at Berkeley Prep. It would be smarter and far easier for two players – Brady and Gronkowski – to learn a new offense rather than the nine other players in the huddle who already had a year in Arians’ system, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
While it’s Arians’ scheme, he let’s his quarterback choose the plays for that week’s play sheet based upon what the QB liked in practice that week and felt comfortable with. That’s been the way Arians has done things dating back to his days as a play-caller in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, in addition to his head coaching stints in Arizona and Tampa Bay.
“We have Tom calling a lot of his own – we’re picking his own on the sidelines from the game plan,” Arians said. “It’s not lack of trust, it’s just lack of continuity within the offense of the whole picture.”
Brady has complete say-so over the plays that Byron Leftwich calls in the game on Sunday, in addition to the authority to check out of a play and into another one at the line of scrimmage if he doesn’t like the defense he sees. Due to his inexperience, Jameis Winston wasn’t afforded the ability to audible much at the line of scrimmage last year, but when you’ve got 21 years in the league and you’ve won more regular season games more postseason games and more Super Bowls than any other NFL player, a player like Brady gets that privilege.
So there is no rift between Brady and Arians. They’re on the same page trying to learn each other in a year in which COVID-19 took away the entire offseason for collaboration time, forced a truncated training camp and deprived Brady of preseason games to work the kinks out and develop chemistry with his receivers, tight ends and running backs before the bullets started flying for real in the season opener at New Orleans.
“Any time you lose games, a lot of people want to place blame, especially in the media, and they want to pit one player against another player, or a player against a coach and so forth. That’s not been my style. … And I just think about it from a player’s standpoint. I always think about what I need to do better, and I certainly haven’t played to my level of expectation, and I’ve got to do a better job, and that’s what it comes down to for me.”
After 12 straight weeks of football, the Bucs are 7-5 – not 5-7 like they were a year ago – and are scoring more points than they ever have. Brady is also having the best first year of any QB ever under Arians.
Just how good? Click on the next page to find out.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org