Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Good Is Tom Brady?

For the past ten years, the media has spoken of New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady in reverent tones. Brady was considered to be an excellent individual player who was unflappable in high-pressure situations, and raised the level of his play in the games that mattered most. In his first four NFL seasons, Brady's Patriots won three Super Bowls, and beat the arch-rival Indianapolis Colts the first six times he played them. The conventional wisdom was that Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning was the better individual player, but did not have what it took - leadership, courage, fortitude, grace under pressure, trust in his teammates - to win big games, whereas Brady, with good, but not spectacular individual statistics, had all of the intangibles that Manning lacked.

After the 2006 season, the New England Patriots acquired Randy Moss, the most talented wide receiver to ever play in the NFL, and one of the most productive. Moss had played on several of the highest-scoring offenses in NFL history. Moss' rookie year, the Minnesota Vikings led the NFL in scoring, and 35 year-old Randall Cunningham, long thought to be washed-up, led the league in passer rating and was voted first-team All-Pro. In 1999, Jeff George, long though to be washed-up, took over from an injured Cunningham and posted the third-highest passer rating in the NFL and was second, behind only superstar Kurt Warner, in yards-per-attempt. In 2004, Daunte Culpepper passed for 4717 yards - the second-highest total in NFL history at that time - and a 110.9 QB rating. Moss played only 13 games that season, and caught 13 touchdown passes, despite constant double-teams. After Moss left the Vikings in 2004, Culpepper never posted a QB rating higher than 78.0, and was out of football by age 32.

With Moss, the Patritos went undefeated, and scored 589 points, an all-time record. Tom Brady passed for 50 touchdowns and a 117.2 rating - both all-time single season records - and led the league with 4806 passing yards. That season, the Patriots went to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the New York Giants in one of the most famous football games ever played.

The following season, Tom Brady was hit on the knee in the first quarter of the first game of the season, and would not play again that year. His back-up, Matt Cassell, had not started a game since his senior year of high school. Predictably, his first couple of games were unimpressive, but he rallied to finish the year with 3693 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, good for an 89.4 rating. In other words, Cassell's season would have been the fourth-best season of Brady's career, and may have even been the second-best season, after Brady's 2007 campaign, if you excluded the first two or three games of the season, when Cassell was still struggling to find his sea legs, and the rest of the Patriots were struggling with the loss of their leader. This is not to say that anybody could have done it, but it does show that Brady's receivers, offensive line, and coaching were a significant factor in his success.

Brady returned in 2009, and played very well. But, once again, he had Randy Moss, Wes Welker, one of the best offensive lines in football, and, since Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, and Tony Dungy had all retired, the undisputed best coach in the NFL.

This season, Randy Moss, upset over the Patriots' refusal to extend his contract, became somewhat of a problem child in the Patriots' locker room, and allegedly mocked Tom Brady for getting what looked like a woman's haircut. Two weeks ago the New England Patriots traded Moss -- the single-most talented and one of the three most productive wide receivers to ever play football -- to the Minnesota Vikings. Since then, Brady has thrown for 159 yards, 1 touchdown and an 82.7 rating against the Chargers and 292 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and a 69.5 rating against the Baltimore Ravens, numbers that can best be described as pedestrian. Meanwhile, Moss has scored touchdowns in each of his first two games with the Vikings.

Make no mistake, Tom Brady is good. But I do not believe he is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, which seems to be the consensus among broadcasters and NFL analysts. I believe him to be a very good player on a great team, who benefitted from playing under a great coach who was always able to devise an offense that put Brady into situations that made the most of his skills. Brady is a cool customer, and has played very well in the Super Bowl and the playoffs, but has not won many big games since the Patriots' defense stopped being the class of the league, and there is a legitimate argument that Brady has never been the best player on his team. He is a very good player whose looks, media savvy, and early-career success have given him a reputation as being an all-time great and a plucky upstart, two things that should be contradictions in terms. He is a top-five quarterback in the NFL, and probably a top-20 quarterback in NFL history, which is impressive. But he's not as good as the media makes him out to be.


Patch said...

WG - I think you're trying to have it both ways here. You argue that Brady's 2007 season only happened because of Moss and Welker. But you don't take into account that the Patriots' receivers (pre-Moss and Welker) were shockingly crappy once they left the Patriots, particularly when compared with Manning's Colts. Troy Brown had one great season, and it was all the way back in 2001. Givens? Branch? Caldwell? All of those guys essentially disappeared once they left. Yet Brady put up remarkably consistent and good numbers from year to year prior to 2007.

If you want to chalk it all up to Belichick, it's hard to argue with that, if only because Belichick has only ever been successful as a head coach with Brady as his QB, and vice versa. We won't be able to really separate them until Brady retires, assuming Belichick stays around after that.

Finally, you say that he plays under "a great coach who was always able to devise an offense that put Brady into situations that made the most of his skills". Those situations have changed dramatically over the course of the years -- simple possession game when the Patriots defense was great, and world-beating offense in 2007 when the defense was mediocre. Yet Brady has always played extremely well regardless of the circumstance. Are you so sure Manning could have handled playing with Reche Caldwell as his best receiver without completely flipping out?

For me, Brady has the well-deserved reputation of being the second-best quarterback of his era (yes, behind Manning) and one of the best of all time by any reasonable standard.

Wade Garrett said...

Patch - Its good to hear from you again!

Your comments are well-taken; I am having it both ways to a certain extent. I do think its noteworthy that the Patriots' offense from '07-'09 was so stocked that Matt Cassell could step in and have an excellent season throwing to those receivers behind that line.

Brady certainly had poor receivers in '05 and '06, but before that he had Brown, Patten, and Branch, who were good - at least as good the receiving corps John Elway and Brett Favre had to deal with, and those guys didn't have running backs as good as Corey Dillon (at least until later in their careers). Also, no quarterback, other than perhaps Brett Favre in '09 and '10 (Rice, Harvin, Berrian, Shiancoe, and now Moss), has had receivers as good as those that Brady has had the last three years. I think you would probably take the '07 and '08 Patriots' receivers over the '04 and '05 Colts, though it would be close.