Not Quite There Yet: Tom Brady's 2009 Preseason
Tom Brady led the Patriots offense against the Redskins this past Friday night. His numbers for the night were solid: 12 of 19, 150 yards, two TDs, zero INTs, 122.7 rating. Numerous people are clammoring that it is 2007 all over again, etc.
On the surface, the numbers speak well for Brady this preseason. He is completing nearly 62 percent of his passes, has thrown four TDs and only one INT. Many fans and so-called football experts alike are talking about how his play is so impressive.
They point to his QB rating (105.95) and express absolute confidence that he is "back," ready to take his team to the promised land flowing with Lombardi trophies and confetti.
However, after watching the game, I have to conclude that the future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback for the Patriots is not quite back to 100 percent yet.
This is not some alarmist commentary. It also should not be taken as a condemnation of Tom Brady’s play, nor is this under the Chicken Little heading (“The sky is falling!”).
This is simply my own personal evaluation of a player I’ve come to admire, and how he has performed during the preseason, particularly in the game against the Redskins.
Why have I chosen that game on which to focus? The main reason is simply that it will likely be the last significant amount of work he’ll do before the season begins. It also represents the most recent body of work, demonstrating for us just how far along he is in kicking off the rust and recovering from injury.
As best I can determine with my admittedly unprofessional eye, the knee appears to be physically fine. He moves around on it without any appearance of limping or any sign of pain. By all reports, his knee is actually stronger than ever.
The only physical effect of the injury is that his knee brace does seem to hinder mobility slightly, making him a little stiffer. However, the physical effects appear to be limited at most.
Mentally, however, I think Tom Brady is only about 80-85 percent recovered. It seems apparent to me that he is subconsciously guarding that knee, and hesitant to lean into it, onto it.
This was demonstrated several times during the Redskins game, especially in his throw with 2:40 left in the first quarter. When facing pressure in this game, Brady rushed his throws.
There are two plays I wanted to focus on in particular. Late in the first quarter, with Brady and the Patriots facing a first-and-10 and operating out of the shotgun, the Redskins sent a linebacker blitz.
The offensive line picked it up, but Matt Light got moved back close to Brady by Brian Orakpo. It appeared to startle Brady, and his subsequent throw was late to Galloway, knocked away by the defender.
It isn’t that he had to get rid of the ball quick, it’s how he did it. He threw in a hurry, and neither set his feet nor stepped into the throw, although he had time to do both. Frankly, he looked panicked.
After the play, he appeared unsure, as if he didn’t know how to react to what had just happened. It’s no mystery why the next two passes were quick outs to Galloway and Moss out of the shotgun.
In fact, out of the 21 pass plays in the game (including the one called back due to a Patriots’ penalty), 14 were out of the shotgun. Of the other seven, five were play action.
It’s possible—even likely—that the Patriots staff doesn’t want to give too many looks to opponents. It also has to be considered, though, that Bill Belichick and his staff are being very protective of Brady, by giving him these so-called ‘safer’ looks downfield.
The other play that stuck out to my mind was the final pass play of the night for Brady, the now infamous hit by Albert Haynesworth.
I don’t have any issue with the play itself. In fact, I think the NFL is tending to baby the quarterbacks of the league. It isn’t the hit that draws my attention; it’s the way Brady behaved in the pocket before that hit.
He had what is often referred to as ‘happy feet,’ meaning he was shuffling about all during the play. Washington brought pressure on the third-and-six play, which is to be expected on an obvious passing down.
Brady did not respond with his usual cool. He was on his toes, elevated, and never set his feet. The pressure got to him mentally before Haynesworth ever dropped his hefty physique on our signal-caller.
The throw itself made me cringe. He was off his back foot, never really set, and it looked as though he just threw it up for grabs. A high floating pass off thrown deep down the right sideline doesn’t seem like the kind of play that we’d see from Brady in the recent past. It was begging to be intercepted, and the Patriots were fortunate that it fell incomplete.
In watching Brady’s pass plays, I could see where he appeared to be hurrying, rushing, not setting his feet properly.
Don’t get me wrong, there are often times when a quarterback has to get the ball out quickly, when there simply isn’t time to set his feet properly. The second touchdown pass to Moss is an excellent example of that.
There are also times when everything about the play looks perfect (feet set, steps into throw, etc.) and the pass is off-target.
Having watched the game over again, reviewing every pass play, Brady appears to lose focus at times, or gets rattled by pressure. He is still adjusting, I think, to the speed of the actual game, and getting acclimated to it once again after a year off.
In this apparent doom and gloom report, there is reason to take heart, good Patriots fans. It looks as though Brady is simply adjusting, getting back to who and what he was—a professional quarterback. On many of the plays, he looked confident, solid, the Brady of old.
At this point in his return and recovery, I think it is simply that Brady needs to get into a rhythm and keep that rhythm going. When that rhythm is disrupted, it is more difficult for him to regain it.
On one play, Brady was flushed from the pocket, and started running. (Running is of course a relative term when Mr. Brady—or most any NFL quarterback—is concerned.) As the linebacker came up, he threw a quick and sharp pass out to Maroney in the flat, who took it 13 yards.
He didn’t throw it immediately, he drew the linebacker first to give Maroney more space to run. That was vintage Brady, timing a play beautifully. It was also an excellent example of how a quarterback need not always set his feet on his throws.
He isn’t back to 100 percent, and he likely won’t be until a few games into the season. It’s possible we won’t see the Tom Brady we want to see until mid-season, but be confident in who we have under center. I’ll take Brady at 90 percent healthy and 80 percent mentally ready over any other quarterback in the league.
The wonderful thing is that while his preseason play is just shy of a 106 rating, his best football is yet to come.
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