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The decline of Tom Brady

Sunday 11/24/19

This is not very important, and there is much I must get to which is, but in the moment before the Patriots game begins against the Cowboys on this day of constant rain, I thought I would make a few remarks about Tom Brady's decline.

I see and hear that decline referenced constantly, but people are off, and the decline talk is misleading. Here is what I have seen. In the last game, Brady's accuracy was an issue. He's always had the occasional game like that, in isolation, which is what last week struck me as. He's as mobile as ever in the pocket (and more mobile than he was ten years ago; you could argue that in terms of efficacy of mobility--I'd say that how you move in the pocket is the most important form of mobility--no one has ever been as good as Brady; which is ironic; Marino was also good that way in his '84-'86 heyday, but Brady is better).

In years past, Brady would get a bundle of his numbers at that point in the game when he'd target Gronkowski repeatedly in a flurry of plays. Even last year, with a diminished Gronkowski--as a receiver, not a blocker--there would be that flip-the-switch moment. It was kind of how like Michael Jordan would make a point of getting to a certain area of the floor--it was literally like the exact same piece of the court. He'd shoot from that part of the floor--often he'd post someone up--and get himself his points and his rhythm.

Brady doesn't have that this year. A lot of the stat loss has been there. I've seen him be over-aggressive and consequently unwieldy in the red area, especially within the ten yard line. He's forced stuff the closer they get to the goal line, tried to cram TDs, in effect. He's been picked and should have been picked a couple more times at least. The rest of the time, his decision-making has been what it's long been. He's thrown a lot of balls away. His arm strength is the same. His passes don't lack for zip. His arm strength has always been underrated.

People forget that in 2013, Brady had a "bad" year. That's his worst year. He didn't catch a lot of gruff. Look at his completion percentage from that year--60%. It really stands out. Even this year he's at 64%. What I'm saying is he's the same guy, with no mental or physical decline. He's the same guy not playing as well, on balance. His age makes that more conspicuous. The running game has been rubbish. A big part of that is the absence of Gronkowski. He made the offense go last year. People don't get that, because he didn't catch huge amounts of balls.

They are in-between identities right now, as an offense. They're not smashmouth, they're not precision-passing. What will happen? They'll incorporate N'Keal Harry into the mix--he'll be a big contributor--and Mohamed Sanu will become a larger and larger presence. He and Edelman will be 1 and 1A by the playoffs. I am surprised, frankly, by how much Ben Watson has left. You'll see him make big, gotta-have-it, reliable plays. When all of that is happening, James White become a huge/dynamic threat/presence.

But Brady has not dropped off. His stats have. Which I think is going to be meaningless, ultimately. He's the most dangerous quarterback in the league, more dangerous now, because teams think he's less of a focal point. The question is one of figuring out things, not physical ability and what remains intact. Big, big, big difference.


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