Monday, October 24, 2011

7 comments Tom Brady: System Quarterback

A few weeks ago I got a comment concerning one of the Bleacher Report articles I had covered. The person asked why I covered Bleacher Report articles since these are mostly people who don't get paid for their submissions and it is such a low hanging fruit. It was a good question. Bleacher Report is:

The US's 4th largest sports media site with 20 million monthly readers.

I didn't cover Bleacher Report for the longest time because I didn't want to knock other amateur writers who were conveying an opinion, even if it was a poorly-defended opinion. This changed once I learned Bleacher Report was taken seriously by others and seen by some (like "Time" magazine) as a force in the sportswriting industry. So while it is low-hanging fruit at times, I tend to post 4-5 times a week, and have decided to go to the dark side and cover Bleacher Report articles. They can be low hanging fruit, I will admit that, but they are also widely read. It is either that or you will get to read 5,000 words today about why Ryan Adams is not secretly one of the greatest musicians of our time. I assume no one wanted to read that, no matter how awesome my thoughts on the subject may end up being.

(I wish I had time to start a blog about music reviews and ruminations on music. I would do this for television shows and movies as well. Sounds weird, but if I had time I would do it. Then I would probably quit it after realizing no one cares what I think.)

Today, we learn through a column that is posed as a question, but is really trying to prove a certain answer to the question, that Tom Brady is a product of the Patriots system. This is an article that is a first cousin to the Michael Ventre article from a few months ago, but this one has the Bleacher Report-ish feel about it.

T here is little doubt that New England's Tom Brady has secured his place among the pantheon of great NFL quarterbacks.

He’s a great quarterback who is also a system quarterback (as argued in this column)? If we take him out of the system, he wouldn't be great anymore, yet somehow this still makes him a great quarterback. I hope I’m not the only confused by this logic.

Brady's success is self-evident, but how much of it does he owe to the system surrounding him?

Every quarterback in the NFL owes some of his success to the system around him. Were Steve Young or Joe Montana system quarterbacks because they played in the West Coast offense? Smart teams fit the offense to the quarterback’s strengths and great quarterbacks grow their skill set as they grow older to fit into different systems.

To what extent was Brady shaped professionally by those around him in New England? Is Brady merely the product of a system?

In this article titled, “Tom Brady: Why Patriots QB is Merely a Product of the System,” the question being posed in the beginning out to be “Is Brady merely the product of a system?” So you can see why I am not sure if this is an unbiased look at Tom Brady’s NFL career since it seems like a conclusion has already been reached and the text that follows will merely serve as means to answer that conclusion.

Huddle around the projector Indian-style and let’s begin the slideshow!

The author starts off with a fairly educational look at the Erhardt-Perkins offense which New England ran the first couple of years Tom Brady was in New England. Now New England appears to run a variation of this offense.

It surprised no one then when Belichick and then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, both assistants under Parcells, instituted their own take on Erhardt-Perkins with the Pats in 2000. Their interpretation opened the passing game further, frequently going with five wide to create one-on-one matchups for their receivers.

The Patriots didn’t open the offense up initially when Belichick started in New England. The Patriots didn’t really open up the offense and go five-wide until later in Belichick’s tenure in New England. They actually ran the offense in a different fashion in 2001. The Patriots five leading receivers in 2001 were two wide receivers, a fullback, and two running backs. The third leading receiver had 204 yards. After that, the Patriots did start to spread the field out a little bit more, but I would argue they didn't necessarily start going five-wide until later in the 2000's. Patriots fans, call me an idiot or prove me correct if you care to.

The running game, once the focal point, was reduced to keeping the opposing defense honest.

This is why I think the Patriots offense is misleading overall. There is a perception that isn't true about the offense the Patriots run. The Patriots did go five-wide more often and the perception is they did reduce the running game in some fashion. I'm not sure that is entirely true. I will take a look at this to see if the assertion is valid. Let's look at the Patriots leading rusher along with attempts by the second, third, and fourth leading running back on the Patriots roster each year (in parenthesis) since 2001 and the total of rushing attempts for the season among these two groups:

2001- Antowain Smith: 287 attempts, 1157 yards (127 other rushing attempts)= 414 attempts

2002- Antowain Smith: 252 attempts, 982 yards (87 other rushing attempts)= 339 attempts

2003- Antowain Smith: 182 attempts, 642 yards (226 other rushing attempts)= 408 attempts

2004- Corey Dillon: 345 attempts, 1635 yards (115 other rushing attempts)= 460 attempts

2005- Corey Dillon: 209 attempts, 733 yards (156 other rushing attempts)= 365 attempts

2006- Corey Dillon: 199 attempts, 812 yards (227 other rushing attempts)= 426 attempts

2007- Laurence Maroney: 185 attempts, 835 yards (181 other rushing attempts)= 366 attempts

2008- Sammy Morris: 156 attempts, 727 yards (237 other rushing attempts)= 393 attempts

2009- Laurence Maroney: 194 attempts, 757 yards (198 other rushing attempts)= 392 attempts

2010- BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 229 attempts, 1008 yards (160 other rushing attempts)= 389 attempts

So you can see the Patriots have employed different types of running games over the years. Whether it be by running back-by-committee or one main rusher, the running game has been used a fairly steady amount. You can see the Patriots running game has not really been significantly de-emphasized as the years go on. In fact, over the last three years when the Patriots have been known as a passing team they have run the ball 24.46 times per game. Compare that to them running the ball 24.18 from 2001-2003 or 26.7 times in their three Super Bowl-winning seasons. I would argue the running game hasn't necessarily been reduced.

For this system to find success, the Pats would need exceptional wideouts to take advantage of one-on-one coverages.

Which is something the Patriots really didn’t have until 2007. From 2001-2006, the Patriots had one 1000 yard receiver. They mainly used a receiver-by-committee system, spreading the ball around the field more. Tom Brady did not have what anyone would consider exceptional receivers until 2007.

Perhaps most importantly, it would require an accurate quarterback with the ability to read defenses to find those favorable matchups in the secondary.

Or an accurate quarterback who is not that great of a quarterback necessarily but is just good in the Patriots system? Amirightorwhat?

He became New England's fourth-string QB and saw action in only one game his rookie year.

To a certain extent, they were right to have doubts. Brady's excellence in college had been inside Lloyd Carr's West Coast offense, a scheme that relied on runs and short passes to methodically move the ball up the field.

So not only is Tom Brady a system quarterback in the NFL, but he was also a system quarterback in college as well. He is one of those system quarterbacks that seems to run several offensive systems with effectiveness, not to be confused with a quarterback who is actually a good quarterback regardless of the system.

I’m sorry, I digress…you were saying somehow this NFL system quarterback was also a system quarterback in college as well...while running a completely different system of course.

A strong arm wasn't as much a requirement as was a clear, intelligent head. Brady had the latter, but of course mental attributes are harder to quantify than the physical.

See, in college Tom Brady didn’t have to actually be a good quarterback. He just had to be smart. This is as opposed to the NFL where he had to be smart and good at the quarterback position. So while NFL scouts were right to have doubts. The fact in 2011 Tom Brady has mastered two different systems and succeeded even as the Patriots have evolved their offense in different ways over the years is not evidence he is a system quarterback. It is actually evidence to the contrary, that he is a quality quarterback who runs the Patriots system well.

With Brady behind center the Patriots would go on to beat St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI, their first of three championships in a four-year span. In 2007, New England would complete a historic 16-0 regular season before losing to New York in the title game.

However, the question we asked earlier is still unanswered. To what extent did the Patriots' system influence Tom Brady's success?

This is really an impossible question to answer because there is no way to measure the effect of the Patriots’ system on Brady’s success.

How much is his greatness merely the product of a great system?

Again, this is impossible to say. How much of Jerry Rice’s success had to do with the fact he had great quarterbacks throwing him the ball most of his career? How much of Randy Moss' success had to do with the quarterback throwing him the ball? How much of Peyton Manning's success is a product of him having the entire offense essentially run through him?

As fans we got a glimpse of the Patriot system working without Tom Brady in 2008.

This is the one and only argument the “Tom Brady is a system quarterback” crowd have. The Patriots went from going 16-0 during the regular season in 2007 to 11-5 during the regular season in 2008 without Brady. That is a 5 game loss in the standings, but because the Patriots didn’t go 6-10 that means Tom Brady clearly isn’t a quality quarterback. Apparently a 5 game increase in losses isn't notable.

There is no in-between allowed here. Critics of Brady argue Cassel's success in New England means Brady is a system quarterback and it the Patriots team is only looked at in that vacuum. Cassel's success is not seen as a reflection on the great supporting cast Cassel had around him (that Brady had too...but he won 5 more games the previous year with that supporting cast). Of course Brady's critics would say if we acknowledge the Patriots had a great supporting cast around Brady then that means he is even more of a system quarterback than originally thought. Maybe I am a bit crazy, but the Patriots won 5 less games with Matt Cassel as the quarterback in 2008 so this says something about Tom Brady’s value to the Patriots to me. It is possible the Patriots had a good team in 2008 and Matt Cassel played well enough not to screw things up.

In the first four years as the Patriots starter (2001-2004 when the Pats won three Super Bowls), Brady averaged 3,480 yards passing, a 61.8 completion rate, an 87.7 passer rating and 24 touchdowns.

In his what was to be his only season as starter in New England, Cassel threw for 3,693 yards, a 63.4 completion rate, an 89.4 passer rating and 21 touchdowns.

Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to compare Brady’s statistics in 2007, 2009, 2010 to Cassel’s statistics since those Patriots teams are more similar to the Patriots team Matt Cassel was quarterbacking in 2008? Of course it would, but it would also not support the author’s contention, so he goes back to 2001-2004 in order to mislead us into believing his point of view. I don’t get how I am supposed to be persuaded by comparing Brady’s 2001-2004 statistics with Matt Cassel’s 2008 statistics. Those were completely different Patriots football teams in terms of personnel. If we are directly comparing Cassel to Brady in order to show Brady is a system quarterback then why not compare Brady’s 2007, 2009, 2010 statistics since those Patriots teams most closely resemble the team Cassel was quarterbacking in 2008? Brady’s statistics for those three seasons compared to Cassel’s 2008 statistics:

Cassel 2008- 3693 yards, 63.4 completion rate, 89.4 passer rating, 21 touchdowns

Brady 2007- 4806 yards, 68.9 completion rate, 117.2 passer rating, 50 touchdowns

Brady 2009- 4398 yards, 65.7 completion rate, 96.2 passer rating, 28 touchdowns

Brady 2010- 3900 yards, 65.9 completion rate, 111.0 passer rating, 36 touchdowns

The Patriots Super Bowl teams were pretty different offensively from the late 2000’s Patriots teams. Even the author acknowledges this when discussing the evolution of the Patriots’ offense. So you can see, even in Brady’s “worst” year he easily surpasses Matt Cassel’s 2008 performance. It is clear Tom Brady brings something extra to the Patriots system that wasn’t duplicated by Matt Cassel in 2008. Brady is simply a better quarterback than Cassel and he makes the Patriots system work more effectively. This doesn’t make him less of a system quarterback, but it shows the Patriots system didn’t necessarily make Brady great, instead Brady was already great and he makes the system work better.

In the New England system he was great, but outside of it Cassel has been mortal.

No one is arguing the Patriots system isn’t an effective system, but the effectiveness of the Patriots offense doesn’t necessarily speak to Tom Brady’s greatness.

Maybe this is proof enough for some that Brady is merely the product of Belichick's system, but I say we go further.

Explain to me how proof that Tom Brady was markedly better than Matt Cassel as the quarterback of the Patriots speaks to Brady being a product of the system any more than it speaks to Tom Brady simply being a better quarterback than Matt Cassel?

but would it be the same for Tom Brady? Would he have had the same career outside of New England?

What you will see from here on is just not very persuasive at all. It’s horrific and you may want to turn your eyes away. To determine how Brady would do away from New England the author compares other University of Michigan quarterbacks and how they did in the NFL with how Brady has done. There is no constant in this equation other than a college football program which the quarterbacks being compared have in common. This would be like saying Peyton Manning is a product of the Indianapolis Colts’ system because Tee Martin, Heath Shuler, and Erik Ainge didn’t succeed in the NFL. After all, Tee Martin won a National Championship at Tennessee which is something Peyton Manning could not do.

Since we can't rewind the clock and play this thought experiment out, let's look for players who were similar to Brady coming out of college. In fact, let's stay with Brady's own alma mater, Michigan, which has produced several NFL QB prospects since he graduated.

I realize Tom Brady shared some time at quarterback for Michigan, but to use other Michigan quarterbacks in the NFL as proof Tom Brady is a system quarterback is insane. Flipping this argument around a person could say John Navarre would have three Super Bowl titles right now if he was drafted by the Patriots.

Consider John Navarre, another Michigan quarterback taken in the later rounds of the 2004 draft by Arizona.

In some ways Navarre was a better college passer than Brady, but he never transitioned well into the professional game.

I would like to know some of the ways Navarre was a better passer than Brady in college. The statistics don’t show this to be entirely true (I will compare the years they both got the majority of the snaps as the starter at Michigan):

John Navarre

2001: 186 completions, 346 attempts (53.8%), 2195 yards, 17 TDs, 12 Ints, 116.3 rating

2002: 248 completions, 448 attempts (55.4%, 2905 yards, 21 TDs, 7 Ints, 122.2 rating

2003: 270 completions, 456 attempts (59.2%), 3331 yards, 24 TDs, 10 Ints, 133.6 rating

Tom Brady

1998: 214 completions, 350 attempts (61.1%), 2636 yards, 15 TDs, 12 Ints, 131.7 rating

1999: 214 completions, 341 attempts (62.8%), 2586 yards, 20 TDs, 6 Ints, 142.3 rating

These numbers don't show me some of the ways Navarre was a better passer than Brady, other than to show he was less accurate and threw the ball more often. As we have heard quite often, Brady was sharing snaps with Drew Henson for part of his college career. Henson really didn’t get that many snaps for the Wolverines and never had more than 90 attempted passes in a season during 1998 or 1999.

It doesn’t take a genius to see Navarre threw the ball more often than Brady did and their numbers project to be somewhat similar to each other. So I am not sure in what ways Navarre was a better passer than Brady, but he wasn’t as accurate and if you look deeper into the numbers Navarre didn’t have more yards per attempt compared to Brady either.

In his brief three-year career he only saw action in five games, starting only one, in which he threw four picks.

If Navarre played for the Patriots, then he would have thrown four touchdowns. Now we use Chad Henne as a comparison to Brady, because they both played quarterback at the University of Michigan so they must be comparable, right?

His name was Chad Henne, and while he outperformed Brady in college, the former 57th overall pick has not come close to his success in the NFL.

It's hard to believe Brady could have ended up like either of these men, yet they all began in similar places with similar skills coming out of college. Brady just happened to be drafted by New England. So, do we have an answer now?

I’m afraid we don’t have an answer now. If the only variables that determined if an NFL quarterback is a product of a system or actually a quality quarterback were (a) how that quarterback performed in college compared to other quarterbacks who played at that same college and (b) how that quarterback performed in the NFL compared to how the other quarterbacks from the same school performed in the NFL…then we may have an answer. Unfortunately, college success doesn't equal NFL success for reasons beyond what team a quarterback lands with.

Let me be clear: This is not to say that Tom Brady isn't a great NFL QB. He is, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

He’s just a great quarterback that is a product of the Patriots system. You can't have it both ways. You can't say the team Brady landed on is the reason for his success and then insinuate if John Navarre or Chad Henne landed on the Patriots they could have similar success, while also claiming Tom Brady is a great quarterback. I won't allow an in-between. Why write an entire column about how the Patriots system made Brady and cop-out saying he is a great NFL quarterback?

The man is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer with numbers and rings that speak for themselves.

How is a he first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback if the numbers and rings aren’t a product of his superior skill level and are a product of the offensive system he played in?

Belichick took an above-average college player and put him in a system that any semi-accurate QB could have excelled.

Bill Belichick’s system, which has been used in other NFL organizations with much less success than seen in New England, can take ANY semi-accurate QB and make him excel? This doesn’t explain why Belichick and Weis’ system hasn’t been used to such a great effect anywhere else in the NFL. If Belichick’s system with a semi-accurate QB is so great, how come Belichick and Tom Brady are the only ones able to use the system so effectively? Perhaps because Brady is a superior quarterback to the other quarterbacks who have tried to run the system.

What has stayed constant year after year with New England has been its skill at wide receiver—Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, the list goes on.

Nope. Actually the list of great wide receivers on the Patriots 2001-2010 teams pretty much stops there. I guess an argument could be made for Aaron Hernandez, but the list stops here. Unless you consider David Givens, Brandon Tate, or Reche Caldwell to be great wide receivers, in which case you need to raise your standards.

Talented wideouts have always been key to the Erhardt-Perkins system's success, and the Pats have always had them.

No, they haven’t. The Patriots had one 1000 yard receiver from 2001-2006. One.

The system has even benefited unknowns like Welker going forward, molding him from an average target in Miami to one of the best receivers in the league.

I’m not going to say the Patriots have a very good offensive system, but Tom Brady makes the system work as effectively as it does. Welker had 67 catches for 687 yards when he was traded to the Patriots before the 2007 season. So the fact he was unknown doesn’t mean he wasn’t a pretty good slot receiver down in Miami before going to New England.

It re-casts castoffs (Corey Dillon, Chad Ochocinco, Moss, Donté Stallworth) in critical roles.

Dillon and Moss were both still quality players in their prime who needed a change of scenery, so it is not like both of them started excelling once they arrived in New England. Chad Johnson has been terrible this year so far and Donte Stallworth actually had more yards and touchdowns each year from 2004-2006 than he did with the Patriots in 2007. So it could be argued he actually was a better receiver before he came into New England’s system.

And for Tom Brady it made him great when he could have been anything but.

There you have it. Tom Brady is a system quarterback, not a great quarterback who helps make the system work better. Yet somehow while being a system quarterback, the author thinks Brady is good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s weird he thinks that when he also thinks the Patriots could put any semi-accurate QB in the Patriots system and he could have excelled. I think that is a bit of a stretch.


rich said...

A strong arm wasn't as much a requirement as was a clear, intelligent head.

Ya, because being a complete moron with a strong arm worked really, really well for Jeff George, JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, etc.

I'd rather have a QB who is smart and can capably run an offensive system than a QB like Romo or Favre who make/made careers out of chucking the ball up and hoping for the best.

How much is his greatness merely the product of a great system?

As much as I hate Brady and NE, the answer to this question is simply: it doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter that he ended up in a system that played to his strengths, it doesn't matter that he ended up surrounded by players who complemented his abilities, it doesn't even matter that he's slept hot women.

All that matters is that he was able to go out and execute the gameplan well enough to win multiple Super Bowls, which unlike Big Ben, he won by playing well.

Just because he's surrounded by the right system doesn't change the fact that he's done well in that system.

JaMarcus Russell was tailor made to run the Raider's offense and sucked, so being in the right system doesn't matter if you don't perform well.

but would it be the same for Tom Brady? Would he have had the same career outside of New England?

Does it matter? What happens if Rivers ends up in NY? Does Eli win a SB with the Chargers? Do the Giants beat the Patriots?

What about Ryan Leaf? What if he goes number 1 to the Colts? Do they win a SB? Do they win more than they have with Peyton?

It doesn't matter, the man went out and helped his team win multiple championships while playing at a high level.

Since we can't rewind the clock and play this thought experiment out, let's look for players who were similar to Brady coming out of college.

This might be the dumbest thing ever. Brady was replaced while at UM several times and so he may not have performed as well as those who consistently started and played. Also, it assumes that once they graduated, they worked just as hard and had the same level of instruction.

From most accounts, Brady busted his ass once he was drafted and had the Hoodie and Drew Bledsoe to learn from. Who the was going to help Navarre?

rady just happened to be drafted by New England. So, do we have an answer now?

Yes, Henne is still young and playing on one of the shittiest teams in all of shitdom with a dumbass for a coach and no one to mentor him.

There's no denying that Brady ended up in the right place for him to go, but that doesn't change the fact that he made the most of it and performed.

Belichick took an above-average college player and put him in a system that any semi-accurate QB could have excelled.

His name? Matt Leinhart.

has been its skill at wide receiver—Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, the list goes on.

That looks like two mediocre WRs, one great one who was passed his prime and a guy who is really good at what he does.

Branch went to Seattle and NE just said "don't let the door hit you in the ass." Ya, real pivotal to that offense.

And of course we remember how effective Moss was in Tennessee right?

It re-casts castoffs (Corey Dillon, Chad Ochocinco, Moss, Donté Stallworth) in critical roles.

So where are all these great wide outs? The only all-pro caliber receivers Brady has had are Welker (who is a product of the system!) and Moss, who is now listed as a castoff... so who the hell did Brady have that was so good that I missed?

And for Tom Brady it made him great when he could have been anything but

Of course, had Brady gone anywhere else, he would have sucked b/c he in no way, shape or form worked to improve his skillset within the confines of the specific system he ran.

I think I could make a new website and write about how Roy Halladay is the product of a system and get people to buy it.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I hate Brady for a variety of reasons (Ok, no reason...the Super Bowl), but it has irritated me with Manning's injury and Matt Cassel struggling how this seems to reflect negatively on Brady somehow.

I agree with you about how it doesn't matter if it is the product of a system, but the author admits Brady has mastered two systems which makes me believe he may actually be a good QB.

The "what if" portion of this article irritates me mostly b/c, like you did, you can do this do this with any team or player. The part comparing Navarre and Henne involved way too many variables for me to take seriously. If they were the exact same player and went to very similar teams with similar circumstances I could maybe see the comparison, but the fact is while Brady had better coaching he also had to do more to earn the starting job in New England than Henne did in Miami.

My two least favorite parts were in order:

1. The insinuation any semi-accurate QB could excel in the Patriots system.

2. The idea the Patriots have had a line of WR who were fantastic and All-Pro caliber. I hate defending Brady, but this just isn't true. It's a myth he had a ton of help in the form of playmakers when he won the Super Bowls.

I think the entire pitching staff of the Braves in the 90's were just products of the system. They all really suck. Throw a semi-accurate pitcher on the team and he can excel ( Jaret Wright/John Burkett jokes).

rich said...

How about Adam Eaton... dude really lit it up here with the Phillies.

::polishes pitchfork::

Martin F. said...

If I may. An All Pro Offensive line is more important than All Pro wide outs. Give any smart, accurate QB time to throw, and even average wide outs can get open. The key to the Patriots system is that it manages to use just exactly these level receivers and still thrive. Brady makes the system work, the system doesn't work without Tom Brady (or an elite level QB. Brees, Manning, Rodgers)

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I made that joke in the last sentence and then realized there were 2-3 pitchers that pitched well in Atl and then sucked a/f they left. Whatever, I still have a point. Adam Eaton is a god, no one can argue that.

Martin, great point. I forgot to mention the O-lines. The Patriots keep Brady clean which is always helpful. I agree the system works, but it doesn't work on the level it does without a guy like Tom Brady. He makes system work better.

Anonymous said...

So anyone with accuracy could have been a 3 time sb champ, hold the ss TD record and be the first unanimous MVP?

I love this stuff as a Pats fan it seems fans of every other team are mystified by the Pats success and need to find someway to play it off as no biggie

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, that sounds like that is pretty much it. Find a semi-accurate QB and put him on the Patriots and three Super Bowls will follow. I am sure the author would argue the reason Brady has the SS TD record is b/c he had Moss and Welker on his team.

It is amazing other teams haven't tried to do this same thing with the Belichick system. It's almost like they are missing a piece to make the system work...probably not a quality quarterback and quality head coach.