NFL Film Room – Week 4, 2020 – Tom Brady: Still GOAT it?
By Tyler Arthur
With an increasing amount of scrutiny every single week being placed on Drew Brees’ decline, which is made much worse in the absence of Michael Thomas of course, but it’s still been very bad, I think it is easy to let it fly under the radar that somebody older than him is still having success passing the football. Tom Brady’s first ever season outside of New England has started with a comfortable 3-1 start, even with injuries to his star receivers.
The Bucs’ only loss actually came to the Saints, but that was because they were awful at running the ball, and the 43-year old had a couple of awkward interceptions. Now I want to take a look at how well Brady is doing a few weeks later, as everyone calls his Week 1 opponent ‘washed’ and see how good the most successful QB of all time is in 2020.
I have been impressed by the Tampa Bay team who have been missing Chris Godwin and Mike Evans on and off, and I think that Brady’s efforts over the past three weeks deserve some credit. However, as you should all know by now, I don’t just want to look at the stats – although we’ll do that first – I want to see how he looks on film.
Numbers first though.
Crunching The Numbers
Through the first quarter of the season, Tom Brady is 9th in the league with 1,122 yards (280.5 per game) and has thrown 11 Touchdowns and 4 Interceptions – of which two have been returned for some pretty bad pick-sixes. Being fourth in the league in touchdown passes isn’t enough for me to say that Brady is playing amazingly though, I have to see him make the kind of throws that you lose with age.
Everybody knows that Brady can throw the short stuff and the intermediate stuff over the middle of the field, and he’ll be capable of that until he’s 60, but when he’s asked to rifle the ball into a window, or he has to put some touch on a ball that’s got to travel thirty yards through the air, that’s when I want to see how he holds up.
In Week 4 the Bucs hosted the Los Angeles Chargers and won 38-31. Brady threw up an impressive line of 30-46, 369 yards, 5 Touchdowns and an interception. In this article I’m going to have a look at those six scoring plays (the interception went for 6) and see if the GOAT has still got it.
Setting The Tone
The first touchdown came on the opening drive, which was an impressive 10-play, 75-yard sequence. The Bucs were lined up on the Chargers’ 3-yard line and they called a play that they really like on the goal line, with a bit of added flare to make it harder for the defense.
They lined up in a tight doubles formation, but in a three-tight end package, where Cameron Brate replaced the running back. Brate motions out to the right side where the other two TE’s, Rob Gronkowski and OJ Howard. They motion-snap the ball and run the play with a sort of off-balance bunch look at the time of the snap.
This is ultimately a spot concept but with an extra moving piece due to the motion snap. Gronk runs an out route toward the back corner of the endzone, and then both Howard and Brate run quick sit routes in the front of the end zone. Due to his moving start and a slightly outside release, Brate creates great leverage against the widest defensive back and breaks inside to the sit with a pivot cut and is open enough for Brady to fire a touchdown in quickly.
This play call is a really good inside the five call, because the entire objective is to stretch the defense and create windows between the zones, preferably within a very short period of time, so to be able to run these short hitch routes from just three yards out speeds everything up and Tom Brady got the ball out of his hands incredibly quickly. Brate’s cut also deserves a shoutout because he executes it quickly and takes advantage of his leverage well to get open.
Also, I’m pretty sure that Gronkowski would have got open a second later if TB12 didn’t throw the ball so fast, too.
As we all know, nothing is perfect, and Brady’s great quick pass was followed on the next drive by throwing a pick-six. Let’s take a look before I talk about the reason(s), I think that this went wrong.
If you watch a lot of football, you’ve seen this before. Quick out-routes are one of the most commonly intercepted routes, and probably the most commonly returned for six. Brady had Justin Watson on the aforementioned route to the left sideline out of a slot-stacked alignment
I think that the first issue here is that this throw is a legit long-distance throw – from the right hash to the left sideline, which is definitely not a throw I’d be leaning towards if your QB isn’t known for having a cannon arm. Arm strength is one of the things I wanted to look at this week, but honestly, I don’t think Brady’s throw is the biggest problem.
I am incredibly disappointed in the way that Justin Watson ran this route. So, let me think out loud for you guys from the perspective of Tom Brady.
This route is supposed to be run to the sticks. It’s a 10-yard out on 2nd and 10, and Brady wants to put the football right at the sticks. Watson breaks after he gets to 10, instead of breaking earlier to catch the ball at 10. He doesn’t break flat enough and I actually think that Brady has to hitch for an extra half-second before he can throw the ball.
The throw itself should probably have been thrown more outside and maybe a bit earlier to try and pull Watson back to the sticks instead of trying to adjust for a bad route, but at the end of the day, this is a good play on a ball that was a very tough throw to make.
Now, back to the TD’s.
The third play we’re going to watch looks very similar to the first, but it wasn’t as quick, which made it pretty funny to watch.
The Bucs’ second touchdown came on yet another spot concept, but this time, Brady held onto the ball for a while longer, and as the defense tried to cover everyone, their number one redzone target, Mike Evans, just casually wandered through the middle of them and then stood at the back of the endzone, open for a high point pass.
The Chargers’ inability to stop this play was amusingly highlighted on this snap, because Justin Watson is wide open the entire time. Obviously, though, if Brady has the opportunity to reach Mike Evans’ weekly touchdown quota, he’ll wait an extra couple of seconds… (I am assuming he didn’t see him, but who knows, with number 13’s recent production).
Seriously, though, this once again proves how good the quick hitch and sit routes are in the end zone. Watson was open the whole play and Cameron Brate (who scored on a similar play two drives ago) drew the attention of at least three defenders. Evans takes a motion from the outsideinto the slot, and then they motion-snap the ball and he just keeps moving until he finds a soft spot.
Brady does a good job of keeping on his toes and moving through the pocket, before making a perfect ‘my guy or nobody’ high throw.
Now let’s take a look at my favourite touchdown of the game.
This play design we’re about to look at is the absolute quintessential ‘what would I do if I was Bruce Arians?’ design.
Arians Airs It Out
The Buccaneers lined up in a 13-personnel jumbo package with one wideout to the left and all three tight ends in three-point stances on the line.
This is as run-heavy a look you can put out there to the defense, and the Chargers come with a suitable look to try and stop it, with nine people in the box and the safety shaded over to the field-side hash toward the receiver.
But we’re not writing an article about Ronald Jones – I can promise you I never will – this is a pass play, and it makes use of the most unique thing that the Bucs have among all NFL teams, three absolutely awesome tight ends that can all play at once, and are capable in both the passing game and running game.
Not only isn’t this a run play, it’s the opposite. They ran four-verticals out of this formation, and it was absolutely perfect.
Gronkowski is the lone left-side tight end, and he runs a sort of awkward fading route toward the corner, to widen the safety, and then OJ Howard and Cameron Brate both run TE fades, getting as wide as possible, immediately, to get away from the aforementioned free safety. This play design has one thing and one thing only in mind – force a linebacker to try and trail OJ Howard up the seam with no help over the top.
This is an unwinnable matchup for a linebacker, and the pass from Brady was absolutely spot on, leading him forward beyond the diving efforts of the defender, and slightly to the inside, more for comfort than anything, as he can attack the ball out in front of him and score his second TD of the season.
The beauty of this design is that against the single-high look, it’s near impossible for neither Gronk or Howard to get open. Brady could have hit his old Patriots teammate for a back-shoulder throw quickly if he wanted, but he saw that the FS was leaning over to that side so he dropped a nice ball out for Howard.
The pass was routine for a quarterback of his calibre, but it’s always nice to see a throw that combines a bit of range with touch and accuracy.
The next touchdown was another verticals play, but this one was so awful I don’t even know how much I can really break it down. They ran three verticals and the Chargers decided to let two of them get open. ‘Open’ might be an understatement to describe how ridiculously easy this was. Just watch.
Different Team, Same Old Brady
Brady wouldn’t be asking for no credit on this one, they just ran their play and the defense left a giant empty void where Scotty Miller was running. He fakes the handoff and then takes a quick drop and throws the ball as quickly as possible to cash in for his fourth touchdown pass of the game, and one of the easiest throws he’ll make all year. You can see how ridiculously open Miller is from the second angle.
When we looked at the third TD of the game, I said how the play was the perfect play to utilise the personnel that the Bucs have at their disposal, using their three tight ends. This last play, however, triggered some memories of how Tom Brady thrived when he was on the Patriots.
One of the things that he has excelled at, especially in recent years with James White in the backfield, is throwing to the running back. This season it hasn’t been any different. Although Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette aren’t exactly notorious for their catching ability Brady will still make use of them (Jones had six catches in this game). Here on this play, the rookie RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn got involved, and scored his first NFL touchdown.
This play, once again, looks like nothing special, but it’s just classic TB12. He gets the ball and within two seconds he’s dropped it in the running back’s hands and given him a chance to make a play, which is exactly what the youngster does. Vaughn didn’t appear in any of the first three games, and only got a 24% snap count this week, but he did a great job on this rep.
He has a flat route, with the two left-side receivers both running in-breaking routes to create space for the rookie running back. Brady leads him out in front to keep him moving towards the pylon after the catch, and he gets into the endzone with a bit of physicality.
It was good to see the rookie stepping up in the passing game when he was given the chance because that will be a very useful part of the 43-year old QB’s skillset to keep making use of throughout this season.
Tom Brady has done well this year, and while he has never been the type of player who makes ridiculous throws and pulls of crazy plays like the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, what he does do is make the right one. He makes his reads and he throws with accuracy and rhythm, and put his offensive weapons in positions to make plays.
This game against the Chargers was one where the running game did its job and kept the game moving, but they wanted to move the ball through the air, and they did a fantastic job of that against a solid defense. Brady threw the ball to 10 different targets, and all five touchdowns went to different players. Cameron Brate, Mike Evans, OJ Howard, Scotty Miller and Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
What is a better way to prove Brady is still Brady than that?
He can make the throws necessary to dominate in this offense, and within this scheme that is clearly putting him in a position to make his reads and keep the ball moving, I think he will continue to win games for the Bucs, and when he hopefully gets Chris Godwin back in another week or two I think that will be a match made in heaven.
To sum this all up, I think the greatest football player of all time is, well, still great.
Brady and the Buccaneers will be on prime time against the Chicago Bears on Thursday Night to open up Week 5, kicking off at 1:20AM BST.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.