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Film Review: Tom Brady's Bad Yards Per Attempt and Dropped Passes

Tom Brady has learned that you need someone to catch to keep you from aging overnight

Tom Brady has thrown one touchdown pass in the last three games. It was a pretty big one, and required the final seconds of a game, against the Saints. Over this stretch of games, Brady has completed 51% of his passes, and averaged 5.46 yards per attempt.

For the year, among the 32 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 100 passes, here are his rankings: 30th in yards per attempt, 29th in completion percentage, 29th in touchdown percentage. He leads only Brandon Weeden in all three categories.

[RELATED: Scott Zolak’s Radio Call After Tom Brady Beat the Saints: “Unicorns, Show Ponies, Where’s the Beef!”]

His current yards per attempt is a dreadful 5.99. Among all quarterbacks age 35 or older, who threw at least 150 passes in a year, that would put him at 16th worst. These are retirement or grizzled veteran backup area numbers for most quarterbacks this age. Of the other bottom 30 seasons in yards per attempt, the average number of remaining starts was 9.9. Only Vinny Testaverde, Jeff Garcia, Babe Parilli, and Jim Hart started 20 more games after having a season under 6.3 yards per attempt after their 35th birthday.

Tom Brady sweater

Of course, Brady gets the benefit of the doubt for one large glaring reason. He has been without pretty much all of his receivers from a year ago, and I noted the historic and unprecedented turnover he was facing in the summer. There was some thought that the Patriots and Brady were a machine that could just churn out production, actual names be damned.

Over at Football Perspective, Chase Stuart had a contest as it related to the demise of the New England passing game. Twenty-one entries tried to predict Tom Brady’s numbers this year; most were of the belief it would mostly be business as usual. The average prediction, knowing that he would be without most of the receivers from a year ago, was 7.4 yards per attempt. Only three entries predicted him below 7.0 yards per attempt. One wrote “It’s the beginning of the end.” The lowest projection, and the one that is on pace to win the contest, had Brady at 5.9 yards per attempt. Patriots fans better hope “Lil Mac” wasn’t looking into a crystal ball, because he also said, “Brady misses last three games with dislocated shoulder; Patriots fail to make the playoffs.”

I had said, in my article about the turnover on offense:

 It still comes down to the Joes, though. Brady looks better when his #1 targets are Randy Moss and Wes Welker than when they are Reche Caldwell and Ben Watson. Yes, Brady took teams deep in the playoffs with Caldwell as his best receiver; the Patriots were also 2nd in points allowed that year, just like they were in the two Super Bowl years with Branch and Givens as the top receivers.

If New England is again among the best teams, it will be due to some combination of the defense finally making a leap back to the upper echelon, or the new players on offense being all-pros themselves so that the offense continues with the same efficiency.

New England is 5-2 by being fifth in points allowed, and 20th in points scored. It’s fair to say that no one will be making all pro this year as a receiver, unless Gronkowski blows the field away in a half season.

Image (1) richard-sherman-tom-brady.jpg for post 234391

One big potential issue with that awful yards per attempt is the drops. According to Stats, Inc., New England leads the league with 24 dropped passes. (This site has a chart detailing the drops allocated to each player). Here are the unofficial drops denoted by Stats, Inc.

  • Kenbrell Thompkins – 7
  • Aaron Dobson – 6
  • Julian Edelman – 5
  • Brandon Bolden – 3
  • Danny Amendola – 2
  • Shane Vereen – 1

I went through all of the New England incomplete passes this year because I was curious about this number, and wanted to see what impact it was having on Tom Brady’s yards per attempt. Now, before going even further, I should probably note that while individual drops do have the potential to have a big impact (third down, touchdown catches, etc), they are rare events, and things like getting separation, route running, and spacing are probably more important to an offense’s numbers and efficiency.

[RELATED: Antonio Allen Intercepted Tom Brady, Ran It Back for a TD]

There is no list I could find detailing the specific plays, so I had to go through and try to identify the drops. I think I have done that, though there are plenty of plays I had marked as question marks, not knowing how Stats, Inc. does it. I think, knowing how many were allocated to each player, I was able to find the ones being used.

DROPPING THE BALL IN STRIDE

I’m not a fan of the drop category because it is pretty broad and vague, as we will see here. Does it mean any ball that a player touches? It cannot, because I have some that were not counted as drops that I noted. Does it mean clear errors by the receiver of easily catchable balls? It clearly means more than that.

So how many of the drops have actually resulted from balls that were well thrown, placed to a receiver in stride? By my count, EIGHT. A ninth, a drop by Dobson when he turns on a short pass at the start of the Saints game, is borderline in this regard. The most costly was this deep ball to Aaron Dobson against the Jets (first game), because it was the largest gain of any of the “drops”, and it was on third down.

Aaron Dobson drop - Week 2 Patriots-Jets-b

In addition to that one, Brandon Bolden was responsible for the next biggest drop, on a wide open screen pass against the Bengals. I have Thompkins (on two middle crossing routes), Dobson (on that play and the slant against the Saints), and Bolden (dropped screen and a pass against the Saints) down for two each, with one each by Amendola and Edelman.

Two of them happened to have come in what could have been a key moment: the attempted rally against the Saints, when Bolden and Dobson dropped passes within two plays of each other before a turnover on downs.

[RELATED: Julian Edelman Leaves Tom Brady Hanging]

These are all plays where the player had enough separation to make a catch, the catch could have been made without adjustment, and there was an opportunity to run (some would have only resulted in a few more yards, but the opportunity was there).

TIMING AND THE YOUNG GUYS

Some of the drops are harsh in the sense that they were not easy catches, particularly some of those designated to Dobson and Thompkins. In particular, the “back shoulder” throw is a timing play that requires plenty of chemistry between the receiver and quarterback, and for the receiver to stop at the right time, and the ball to be delivered well.

There were plenty of incompletions on these type of throws, and it will be interesting to see if they phase them out (or become better at it) going forward. Some were not classified as drops because the defender got a hand in. Others were. Some of them were drops in the sense that a hand was on the ball, but were difficult catches. Here is one that was likely called a drop (it was denoted as such in the play by play) against Thompkins.

Kenbrell Thompkins drop - Week 1 Patriots-Bills

Calling that a drop seems a harsh result to me. In truth, it should have been interference, as the defender had a hold of Thompkins left arm, and he was only able to get one hand on it as a result. The one armed thing is inconsistently applied. I Gronk drop?actually had Gronkowski marked down for this play, where it bounced off his hand on Sunday in the fourth quarter. I suppose having only one arm and being hesitant to use the other because of surgery is different than having one arm because the other is held.

There were plenty of other throws that were catchable in the sense that a professional receiver could catch them, but required extension, or going to the ground. I am not exactly sure which of Thompkins were called drops because there are multiple candidates, but there were a couple of plays that were initially ruled catches and overturned on review. Those involved diving attempts and would have been good catches.

There is also this drop by Dobson. I would call this a drop, but it certainly is in a different category than the previous ones. I would not call it perfectly placed, but catchable. With the sideline, defender in close proximity, and Dobson trying to stay inbounds, this would have required a really good play from both quarterback and receiver. Had he held on to that, I’m not sure he is going to be able to get inbounds with both feet.

Aaron Dobson drop - Week 2 Patriots-Jets

JUST A BIT OUTSIDE

Some plays that I am confident are being called drops are very harsh. For example, I am fairly certain this play by Edelman is counted among the drops. This one happened at the end of the Bengals game, in a torrential downpour. Edelman is open. The ball slipped out of Brady’s hands, it is taking a nosedive, and Edelman gets his hands on it right before it hits the ground but understandably cannot pull it in.

Tom Brady bad throw to Julian Edelman - Week 5 Patriots-Bengals

“I can understand some of the frustration that Tom Brady has gone through, but as we saw on that last throw, and already on this first drive, he’s missed some throws . . . when he has missed throws to Edelman like that, that’s just not how we’re used to seeing Tom Brady play.”

That was Troy Aikman following the below picture. I am also fairly certainly this was credited as a drop by Edelman and being used in the discussion about how many drops Brady’s receivers have. Here’s the still shot of where the ball was placed, and keep in mind that Edelman was cutting away from the direction where the ball was delivered and away from that defender. Edelman may have 5 drops being listed by Stats, Inc. If a quarterback throws two balls like that, he should expect lots of drops.

Amendola drop or bad throw?

OVERVIEW

Twenty-four drops is a lot. Tom Brady is complicit in some of them. Some are a result, I am sure, of the lack of chemistry between the receivers and the quarterback, while only about a third are true bad drops on easily catchable balls, the equivalent of a booted ball right at a fielder. Setting aside the drops and looking at incompletions, Brady is missing a lot of deep throws, many of which are not close. The two biggest misses were the result of deep throws. One was that Dobson drop. The other, Brady missed Amendola on this play. I do not believe this was counted as a drop as I have Amendola’s others accounted for. However, it is another chance to hit a play that would have had a big impact on the yards per play.

Tom Brady overthrow Danny Amendola - Week 6 Patriots-Saints

I tried to estimate how many yards have been lost by all of the drops. There were only a couple of them that made it difficult, the Dobson deep drop and the Bolden screen drop. Most of the other plays likely classified as drops were short gains, involved a receiver at a stop, diving, going to the ground, or extending, and had a defender right in the area. It’s pretty easy to estimate those. Overall, had all of those plays been caught, Brady would have averaged 10.6 yards per completion on the plays. Assuming he had no drops at all this year, Brady’s yards per attempt would be around 6.88.

Of course, no one in the entire league has zero drops. The average is 11 drops. Assuming the league average instead of leading the league, Brady’s yards per attempt would still be at 6.48.

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