The Brady-factor

Before I start to write anything I want to make it clear, I believe Tom Brady is the GOAT in the world of football. This article won’t questioning his greatness, but I want to see how big the Brady-effect is for his teams.

Since Brady left New England most of the people are asking who is the real reason for the success of the team? Is it Coach Belichick or is it Tom Brady? Nowadays, when Brady will play in the Super Bowl again with his new team and the Patriots didn’t even reach the playoffs, many think it was Brady and BB had only luck with him and he is not so good coach as some of us think. Additionally there was the interview with Amendola this week and some quotes from ex-players, who think the success was more because of Brady (70%) than Belichick. Then I read articles about how bad Cam Newton is and with other QB the team could be better, which I feel is very unfair. So I will compare the 2019 and the 2020 seasons, both for the Pats and the Bucs to see in what situation Brady was last year with the Pats and in what situation he arrived in Tampa Bay this year. Was the Bucs really bad last year and Brady was the savior or Bucs needed actually only Brady (or other top QB) to be able to reach the Super Bowl? On the other hand I want to see if this year’s Patriots was really so much worse as many suggest compared to the 2019 Patriots and if yes, was it because of Newton?

Let’s go and find out! (I used the database of Pro Football Reference and Football Outsider, thank you for your amazing job)

Patriots offense:

First thing I want to show you is the supporting casts in each year. We know that one reason Brady left the Patriots is the lack of production from the wide receiver and tight end groups. Replacing Gronk is a giant mission if it is even doable, but last year’s Watson-LaCosse-Izzo trio wasn’t Brady’s level (although I have huge respect for Watson) and unfortunately this year’s rookie duo was too silent. I really missed last year a trade for O.J. Howard or David Njoku before the deadline, but the mantra is always the same „in Bill we trust“. The WR room has ton of potential, but Harry didn’t show us why he was picked in the first round, the Sanu-Gordon duo had their own issues, Brown came and left, Meyers was an UDFA and Dorsett showed very little. The only one person who gave us what was expected, was Edelman. That was last year, but this year wasn’t really better. Edelman made more yards in 6 games than Harry in 14 and the best two were the above mentioned Meyers with over 700 receiving yards but without a TD and Byrd who had bit more than 600 yards.  The one and only James White, had family issues unfortunately so he couldn’t help either.

What do you expect from this group? They should bring you into the playoffs or into the Super Bowl? Actually I tell you one thing. I believe this year the team could have a shot to reach the playoffs, even after the departure of Brady and the opt-outs. I hear your voice, „are you serious?“ or „what did this guy drink?“. No no, I am absolutely serious, just go on with the reading.

The first two spreadsheets will show you the production of the top5 receiving targets from 2019 and 2020:

What do we see? Edelman had a 1000+ yards season in 2019 and if he wouldn’t be injured he could have another one in 2020, but unfortunately he got injured. Despite his absence James White still had more than 60 targets and again was the most effective pass catcher in the whole team with 79%. The biggest riser was Meyers. I am so happy for him, I cross everything I have for him and hope he will stay on this path and will be better and better. Harry got into the top5 but I don’t know if it is because he was so much better or because the other were not so good. I hope he will have a 3rd year jump in 2021 or he might have to fight for his roster spot.

As I wrote in my previous article (if you didn’t read it, please check it on my website) we don’t have a true nr.1 wide receiver, but we have plenty of nr.2 and nr.3 players.

I put there the DVOA ranks as well for every top5 guys. What is DVOA? DVOA is the main statistic used on Football Outsider. The long name is the following: Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This statistic compares players/teams/etc to the league average and gives a plus or minus percentage to show if the team/player is over or runder the average. If we want to see the offense, then the plus percentage is good, it means the offense or the player is more productive than the average. On the defense side the huge plus percentage is very bad, it shows that the defense or player is letting the opposing offenses to be more productive than the average. I wanted to stay simple, so I just put there the ranks of the players.

During Brady’s 2019 season, Dorsett was the 48th and Edelman the 61st best WR with over 50 targets. Meyers‘ 26th and Sanu’s 72nd places were in the WR group with under 50 catches and White was compared to the other running backs. So it is safe to say, Brady didn’t have a single receiver in the top40 overall. This team still reached the playoffs. It wasn’t long lasting, but still playoffs.

In 2020, things didn’t changed much, Meyers almost got into the top40 and Edelman reached the 45th place, despite his injury, but Byrd and Harry were even lower than Sanu in 2019. Please tell me, what were your expectation from this group? And how can I be so crazy to believe this group could reach the playoffs despite these rankings?

Maybe the running back room was great.

Not really, they were not so great. Please don’t think I say they were bad, because I don’t think so. As I wrote in my last article, if we could resign White, I would be ok with the running back group as it is. The thing is, if you don’t have top notch WR group, then you should have great RB group. There were 8 running backs in 2020 who could go over 1.000 yards alone and Derrick Henry went even over 2.000 yards. In 2019 Sony Michel almost passed the 1.000 yard limit, but behind him was a big gap. In 2020 Harris showed up and Newton was an effective runner too. For complementary football this could be enough, but for that we should have a strong middle class WR group, which we have not at the moment.

To summarize the supporting cast topic, I think Brady had a better WR group in 2019, than Newton had in 2020. TB had some veteran presence in Edelman, Sanu, Dorsett and White. Who had Newton? Edelman for 6 games, White wasn’t the same as in 2019, Byrd was a new guy and the Harry-Meyers duo didn’t have tons of experience. That level of chemistry what TB had with the others wasn’t there either for Newton (maybe with Byrd) this year. And we have to mention Newton’s covid case, since he wasn’t the same player 2-3 weeks long after he came back. But how bad was Newton really in the Patriots system?

I put together Brady’s full 2019 season with Newton’s 2020 season, plus Brady’s second half of his last run with the Pats, because many analysts suggested that during this 8 games span he wasn’t the same. As you can see, he really wasn’t the same.

Ok, so I have to ask you. Is this really what you were expecting? For me it wasn’t. Yes, I know, Brady had 1.400 more yards in the air and threw 16 more TDs with 2 less INTs, but please check the completion rate, the yards/attempt and yards/completion points as well. Newton has 5% higher completion rate and if we compare his numbers with Brady’s second half, than it is almost 9% difference. The 0,1 and 0,6 yard difference at yards/attempt and completion sounds not big, but you are compared now with the greatest of all time, so it is still something. Plus Cam’s QB rating was better than Brady’s second half rating.

I don’t say Newton was great, but with normal circumstances and better WR help he could be a good QB for the team. I am not saying BB should bring him back (it depends on the direction, what the Coach wants to do with the QB situation), but if he does and Cam will get more help (FA and/or Draft) I believe he would be more productive. He has his flaws, there is no question about it, but he is an ex-MVP, so he has something to show for the league.

Buccaneers offense:

We will go through the same way here as we did it with the Patriots 2019-2020 comparison. Now we already know what quality on the offensive side had the Patriots during the last two regular seasons. We can see the reason why Brady wanted out of this situation and planned to go to a contender or at least a potentially contender team. Fits the Buccaneers into this category?

Wow, such a difference. And don’t forget, these numbers come from the Winston-era in Tampa Bay. Jameis Winston had 3 top20 WR during 2019 and two top32 TE. Check back what supporting cast Brady had in NE. Three between the 48th and 72nd places. Additionally, both Godwin and Evans had 1.000+ yards. Looks like a quality difference. How much did it change under Brady?

Only Evans went over 1.000 yards, but Godwin was not far behind and Brady got two old buddies to play with. After a short retirement period, Gronk came back and especially in the second half of the season he proved why Tom wanted him. Over 600 yards and 7 TDs is not bad. Brown showed his chemistry with Brady during his New England time, this year he did choose to stay on the field instead of making trouble and posting questionable things on IG. He was ok with his role as a second tier WR, but he delivered. Scott Miller was a nice in house option, who earned Brady’s trust during the year. Unfortunately Howard got injured very early, with him this unit would be even stronger.

Tampa’s running back group was on quite the same level in 2019 like Pats’ if we count Winston’s records to it. Without Winston it would be a little less, but still almost 1.200 yards from the top RBs. 2020 is a different story again. Despite the fact, Patriots top3 running players got together almost 400 yards more than the Bucs’ top3 players in this category, but if take out Cam’s almost 600 yards, then it is immediately a 200 yards difference for the other side. In both years Ronald Jones II was better according to the DVOA list than the top option in New England. As I wrote earlier, only 8 RB went over 1.000 yards this season, which brings Jones in an even better situation, to see how much help he was for the air crew. This production was enough from running backs, to support the passing game which was led by Tom „I am the GOAT“ Brady.

Here are some huge gaps between the two QBs. Completion +5% for Brady for example, but the biggest one is the QB rating difference, which is almost 18% for Tom. I think, this one shows best, how good is the Buccaneers supporting cast.

Yes, the Buccaneers needed a top (or at least a better) QB instead of Winston. I can’t say if they would be so successfull with someone else, but Brady came into a good group which became even better with Gronk and AB. This is the perfect example for a team, which is actually ready for the big run, but needs a good leader. Bruce Arians and Jason Licht put together a team full with potential and finally they found the key for the success. On the other hand, Brady led the Patriots into the playoffs in 2019 and Cam couldn’t repeat it this year. I am sure the Brady-factor played a bigger role here as well, which means Brady could make a good team very good and a middle level to a good one.

Defenses:

But we are still not ready. As I mentioned I believe Cam could have been able to bring the Pats into the playoffs if something would have been better. Do you know what am I talking about? No? Watch this!

And what about now? I don’t want to say it was the fault of the defense, that we didn’t get into the playoffs, but they were part of the problem. Of course the whole starting LB group from 2019 was missing, van Noy, Collins, Roberts signed to another teams and Hightower opted out. This alone was a huge hit for the defense, as you can see our run defense fall 24 places in the ranking until the dead last, 32nd place. Our pass defense took a fall as well, the reason might be Chung´s opt-out (but I don´t think this was the main problem) or Gilmore’s absence.

You can be sure, if the defense is not working on a high level, then it is not allowed for the offense to have bad days. This is complementary football, one day the offense helps out the defense, on another the defense will help the offense out. In 2020 the Patriots couldn’t do consistently.

This is the Buccaneers defense. They were very consistent during the last two regular seasons, so when Brady and co had a down day, they could count on the defense.

Why defense is so important and why am I writing abut them so much? 4 from the Patriots 9 losses in 2020 came with 7 points or less.

I can not tell it for sure, what would have been if the Patriots as a team would have played better, but we can suggest, that a top5 or top10 defense would have given the offense enough support to turn the Seattle, Denver and Buffalo games. In this case the Patriots would have finished with 10-6, the same records as the Dolphins, but the Phins had a 3-3 divisional record and in this scenario the Pats would have 4-3, so our team would have gone into the playoffs. Of course this is not so simple, the offense should have been better, etc. I just want you to see another angle of the things as well.

Conclusion:

So what is my conclusion? Brady is the GOAT, no question, but please don’t put all the blame on Cam’s or BB’s shoulders and say, without Tom Brady our head coach is a nobody, because his statistics from Cleveland were bad and he couldn’t even reach the playoffs this year. If you are a great player and you go to a complete team, that team will be even better (although this year’s Tampa had its down periods as well). Belichick should recalibrate the whole team, he needs to find a new leader for the offense, needs to sign players to the WR/TE groups and he needs to bring back our defense to the top10 level. I am sure he and the other coaches are working hard to solve those problems. And I believe if they can fix most of those problems, the team can be in tha playoffs sooner than later.

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