We’re getting stories from the East Coast about Tom Brady. The Washington Post, that great fount of sports knowledge, says “This year, Brady has turned gunslinger, heaving bombs downfield with greater frequency that at any point in his 18-year career.” They call it a stylistic transformation.
According to Pro Football Focus, which defines deep passes as 20 yards or longer, Brady has already topped 40 deep balls, the most in the league. Tom Terrific hasn’t thrown deep at anywhere near his current rate since 2006. These throws have resulted in 18 completions (and two drops). Nor has this affected Brady’s always-impressive completion percentage, which is a healthy 66.4. He also leads the league in yards passing, by a wide margin, and his passer rating is behind only that of the Chiefs’ Alex Smith.
The Boston Herald applauded Brady for his latest comeback, Sunday’s win over the Texans, accomplished by a 25-yard final-minute touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks. The paper said it put an exclamation mark on Brady’s use of deep passes this season.
Speaking of Alex Smith, the guy chosen ahead of Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft, he’s always been known as the classic game manager. Bleacher Report says the term “game manager” is either a half-hearted compliment or a lukewarm insult, and adds that it’s usually used to describe a physically limited quarterback who keeps his teams in games by doing as little as he can get away with.
This year though, even Smith is trending toward longer passes. He leads the league in yards per attempt (8.68). After him, the lineup is: Brady, Kirk Cousins (Redskins), Carson Wentz (Eagles), Jameis Winston (Bucs), Matt Ryan (Falcons), Jared Goff (Rams), and Drew Brees (Saints). The Packers have already been bludgeoned by Ryan and Brees – two guys who put the whole field into play.
These eight teams have a combined record of 33 wins and 19 losses – anyone care to argue that frequent resort to the deep ball is a losing strategy?
Packers Are Trending Opposite
Back in Green Bay, no such trend has emerged. Aaron Rodgers has not made the deep ball a staple of his passing game for going on three years – ever since Jordy Nelson’s ACL injury. And Brett Hundley’s career just started without any deep-ball hookups.
Though Rodgers was having a respectable year until injured, his yards per attempt was 7.14, good for only 14th place. Last year Rodgers had an average of 7.26 – again placing fourteenth.
One’s receiving corps, of course, has a lot to do with how eager a team is to throw long.
Brady’s changeover might be primarily due to the Patriots acquiring speedster Brandin Cooks – and to their loss of Julian Edelman, a short route specialist, for the year.
Green Bay has relied for years on Jordy Nelson being their principal deep threat, but Jordy’s ability to get open downfield has predictably lessened. Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis, the next most likely deep receivers, seldom see the field. Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are each too slow to prosper by going deep, though each has had some mid-range success. While Martellus Bennett is considered fast for being a tight end, in his 10th year that is now debatable. Jared Cook, who was replaced by Bennett, looked appreciably faster to me last year.
As long as they insist on acquiring and/or playing slow receivers, the Packers’ forecast won’t change: Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley are presently effectively constrained to being short-pass QBs.
The Packers should have acquired a speedy receiver going into the 2017 season – either by draft or trade. Instead, and throughout the Ted Thompson era, they shunned the very idea that speed is conducive to being a productive receiver.
Will they learn their lesson prior to the 2018 season? And how big of a price will they pay this year as part of that learning process?