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Ask PFW: Bye-week questioning of Brady

This week’s Ask PFW mailbag has fans reactions to an ugly loss in Tennessee, including more than a few questions about Tom Brady’s play of late.

20181113-AskPFW-2500x1406 Tom Brady

It appears to me, from the comfort of my recliner, that Tom Brady has become less and less adept at identifying, or seeing the open man. It is equally surprising that Josh McDaniel has not been in his face about it. Since I trust Brady to make the best choice he sees, I wonder if his peripheral vision (physically) might have been regressing over the past years. One no longer hears "Who does Brady throw to? Why the open man of course".

Dave Brown

This kicks off a number of emails critical of Brady's play not only against the Titans but for portions of the season. Statistically Brady has not been himself. He's very much middle of the pack in terms of passer rating (16th), completion percentage (18th) and TD percentage (19th). He's thrown just one touchdown pass in the last three games, obviously being shut out in two of the three. He admitted after Sunday's poor performance in Tennessee that he missed open receivers against the Titans. He also forced the ball too often to Josh Gordon, and to a lesser degree Julian Edelman. There are a number of factors that I think have played into his issues. Some of it is the support around him. He's dealt with absences for Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and Shaq Mason, among others. I also don't rule out the fact that he's 41 years old being a factor. He's in uncharted waters in terms of trying to be an elite quarterback at this age. He's still good, don't get me wrong, but he may not be good enough to cure everything that ails his team in a given week like he once did. That said, he hit the bye week with a 7-3 record. That's still pretty good, especially given that he continues to lead a team with a very much suspect defense. As for McDaniels, I really have no idea exactly what he's saying to Brady, either on the field or behind the scenes. I think he's a good coach. I think they have a good relationship. I'm sure they are both doing all they can to improve the consistency and production of the passing game.

Andy Hart

I've waited awhile to give any real thought to this due to general offensive problems and changes, but are we witnessing Tom Brady's decline? I don't think he's looked right all season, I'm just not sure exactly what it is. He seems to be rattled more mentally than physically. Sure a few of his passes have been off target, but I've seen more instances where he just hasn't made good decisions. It seems a lot like he's trying too hard. He has decent stats even after the past few weeks, but I think that possibly has to do with James White more than TB. I think James White has been more valuable than Edelman and Gronk this year. What kind of numbers would this offense have if James White wasn't catching the ball out of the backfield as many times as he has? If the game against the Titans was any indicator, then they wouldn't look good. I'm not hitting the panic button just yet, but TB and really the whole team has just seemed different this year, there's a different sort of vibe. Is that just me?

Jordan Johnson

It's not just you. There has been a lot going on all season—and even prior to the season – in New England. There have been major ups and downs in all three phases of the team. They have continued into November, which is different than most prior seasons. Some of it is thanks to injuries and personnel. Some of it may be the way the roster is formulated and has changed on the fly with a key addition like Gordon. Though many are suddenly questioning Brady's arm strength I have not seen that as an issue. To me it's been questionable reads and some issues with accuracy. I don't think it's crazy to say he's out of sorts right now, both mentally and maybe a little bit mechanically. In that regard, maybe the bye week has come at a good time for him to reset things a bit and prepare for the stretch run. But to be clear, you are far from the only one who thinks things look and feel a bit different this fall.

Andy Hart

It's utterly embarrassing that the not-so-mighty Titans were able to do such a thorough job of confusing the 41-year-old Brady and on a short week. And they are not the only ones. Three other pretty average teams made the GOAT look utterly inept this season. One common way to combat pass defense it with a run game. Yet Patriots could not move the ball during their three loses on the ground either. Why not?

Jim M.

I think the score, the way the game played out and lack of success all played a role in the limited contributions from the Patriots ground game in Tennessee. Overall I thought Tennessee really owned the line of scrimmage as a defensive front, both in terms of pass rush and run defense. The Patriots were not only without Mason, but LaAdrian Waddle had to see reps at various points at both left tackle and right tackle for Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon, respectively. That may have played a factor. But Michel had too many inefficient runs early on and the overall unit had too many negative plays. The Titans kept scoring. And the ground game – New England averaged just 2.1 yards per carry as a team and no ball carrier averaged better than 2.8 yards a carry – became a disappointing non-factor in another loss. Sony Michel's health and the depth of the backfield have been a factor, not only in this loss but also early in the season.

Andy Hart

Brady has looked so off the past few weeks so I beg to question has father time finally caught up to him? Even though the Patriots are still winning games something just seems off with him, obviously because of the loss to Tennessee it's going to be more scrutinized, but just wanted to see how you guys felt. Something just seems off.

David Lineberry

Different vibe? Something off? These are all different terms to say the same things. We are not seeing the consistent, efficient, effective Brady that we are used to seeing. It's OK to admit that. Doing so does not mean you are a hater or that you think he's incapable of getting the job done anymore. But the facts are the facts and the stats are the stats. Brady has not dealt with pressure well this season, which used to be a staple of his game. I enumerated some of the possible reasons for it in the previous answers, but the reality is that TB12 isn't exactly chugging along toward another MVP. But, he's also not as bad as some would have you believe. He's stuck in the middle somewhere and clearly hoping to lift his game coming out of the bye and down the stretch.

Andy Hart

It is amazing how quickly this team can go from one of the best teams in football to one of the worst. Contender teams usually do not lay such massive eggs especially towards the end of the season. So what does it say about this team being a true contender?

Edward Logg

I have used the same phrase to describe the Patriots all season. As currently constituted, I think they are in the NFL fray. They are in the fight for survival and excellence in the league. In the past, it seemed they were above the fray, especially by this point in the season. Now, they have seemingly more inconsistencies from week to week. Even in their winning streak, there were reasons for concern. But, there are few teams if any that are above the fray at this point. The Chiefs have been very good. The Rams have been flirting with loss thanks to their defense. The Saints are rounding into form and the Steelers are trying pull away from early-season struggles. Can the Patriots still go to a Super Bowl? Yes. Does it feel as likely right now as it has in the past at this time of year? Probably not. But besides the Chiefs, especially in Arrowhead, is there another team in the AFC that is really all that scary and seemingly unbeatable? Nope. If the Patriots can get their stuff in order they will be in the mix of contenders come January. Right now, they are in the fray.

Andy Hart

I know it is still early in their careers, but it is already becoming evident that the Patriots selected the wrong Georgia Bulldog running-back in this year's draft. Nick Chubb has been an explosive bell cow running rampant on opposing defenses since taking over for Carlos Hyde in Cleveland. He leads all NFL running backs "with 50-plus carries this season in forced missed tackles per touch (0.27) and yards after contact per carry (5.3) – the latter metric standing 43.2 percent above the two backs (Austin Ekeler & Royce Freeman) tied for second on the list." And in his only 4 games as Cleveland's feature back "(Weeks 7-10), Chubb ranks first in forced missed tackles (17), yards after contact per carry (4.2) and rushing first downs (21)." All per PFF. Love or hate PFF these stats are not subjective, they are discernible facts. Chubb is also the #1 graded HB in PFFs metrics at 90.5. Sony Michel meanwhile ranks #46 at 64.5. It's more than fair to say that Nick Chubb has not only vastly outplayed his former teammate Sony Michel, but every other running back in his draft class. Do you too believe Bill and Co. chose incorrectly?

Patriots Fan

Whoa, Chubb is better than legends like Ekeler and Freeman???? Sorry, I couldn't resist. Yes, I am a major PFF sceptic, mostly for their grading. The numbers you are fixating on are mostly – mostly – subjective. But not completely by any means. Still, I thought Michel looked good when he was healthy and hitting his stride. Chubb is essentially one huge run better than Michel, statistically, at this point. Michel's future is going to hinge on his health and knees. If he can stay on the field I still think he can be a very good back for the Patriots and could evolve into a three-down back with contributions in the passing game. Chubb may have a nice career in Cleveland. But I'm not ready to make any definitive assessments on the two based on limited, solid starts to their NFL careers. Maybe the Patriots chose incorrectly, but I'm not there yet. And by the way, I posted your question this week because I liked it. In the future please leave at least a believable fake name or I'll be prone to just hit delete, especially if it's based solely on PFF's flawed numbers. Thanks!

Andy Hart

Chris Hogan had one good year here in NE, his first year as a Patriot. Since then he's been the very definition of pedestrian. Every time he's on the field the offense might as well be playing with only 10 men, because he is total non-factor, simply taking up a spot. I feel Dorsett has been far more efficient and productive when given the opportunity. So why is Hogan still out there every Sunday doing absolutely nothing -- literally, zero catches over the past two weeks -- while Dorsett is relegated to the sidelines?

Brady Thomas

I actually think this is from the same fan as the previous email, but at least his aggressive, digital tough-guy act had a somewhat believable fake name this time. One defense of Hogan is that you can only catch the balls that are thrown your way, which was a grand total of one in Tennessee. I'm not going to pretend that Hogan has been great because he hasn't been. He's struggled to get separation since he injured his shoulder last season. I thought he got off to a really nice start last year before the injury, the production coming off his impressive first season in New England in 2016. But he's done more for Brady and the Patriots than you are giving him credit for. I'll be honest, though, I've never been a big Dorsett fan. I just haven't seen him really take his opportunities and run with them. Hogan has 23 catches and a 14.5-yard average this season. Dorsett has 25 catches and a 9.8-yard average. Now, they are different targets and Dorsett spent time trying to fill-in for Edelman in the slot to open the season, helping sway the averages. Still, I think both guys are truly No. 4 targets. They are complementary weapons with different skills and roles. But they are reliant on guys like Gronkowski, Edelman and Gordon to do their jobs to open up room for them to work. I don't think there is anywhere near the difference between Hogan and Dorsett that you seem to declare so harshly.

Andy Hart

The Titans can be put down as a bad day at the office all round but one thing it highlighted is the continuing struggles of Chris Hogan. He was held without a catch and looks incapable of getting open. But what bothers me is the snap count, with Hogan again getting over 80% of snaps and Dorsett, who catches a high percentage of his targets, getting less than 20%. I get it that Dorsett might be facing lesser DBs if he is in on 5 receiver sets but Hogan cannot produce so surely Dorsett deserves a shot with the starting offense?

Len Carmody

Dorsett did start. He started in Week 2 and 3. Those, by the way were losses in Jacksonville and Detroit. He caught five passes in those two games for 44 yards and an 8.8-yard average, all against the Jags as he was shut out against the Lions. Dorsett is more of an inside option than Hogan, which is why his snaps have decreased dramatically since Edelman returned from suspension. He's caught a pass for longer than 20 yards in just one game this fall, something Hogan has done in six different games. You and others are clearly down on Hogan and see more from Dorsett than I do. Can the latter contribute? Sure. Do I think he should get more reps than Hogan or replace Hogan altogether? No, I don't. Both guys are complementary options and I think Hogan is a better option in that role.

Andy Hart

In my last post I said Michel should have been rested until at least after the bye week, he was useless and all BB did was delay his return. Another poor personnel decision and makes me wonder what the Pats are thinking. I agree with resting Gronk, even though at 50% he's a huge advantage since getting him to the postseason healthy is key. We should have used Patterson as a running back or even Nate Ebner would have been better since at least he would be able to pick up blitzers better. But enough whining, my real questions is why do Josh and BB keep getting outcoached by ex-patriots.

Thomas Walkden

Though I know coaches do manage health at times, I also think we are always on the outside looking in when it comes to medical information. Healthy players should play. If Michel is healthy enough I think he would have been on the field in Tennessee. These guys are paid good money to play a relatively short season. There are no guarantees that if a guy plays he's going to get more injured or if he sits out that he won't get injured when he eventually returns. That's just the reality. You can't put players in bubble wrap. They have to play and you have to try to win as many games as possible, especially in a season like the one New England is currently in where so much seems to be a struggle. I have no desire to see too much more of Patterson at running back. He's done a decent job thrown to the mix, but the bulk of the production came on a handful of carries. Many more of his carries have been completely ineffective. He also concerns me with the way he takes handoffs and how upright he runs. Call me an alarmist, but I think he's a fumble waiting to happen as a running back. And I don't have any idea why we would turn to Ebner, either, unless you are referencing his rugby action giving him a leg up as an emergency running back. Finally, to your real answer, familiarity has clearly been a factor in Belichick-coached teams losing to former Patriots assistants. Josh McDaniels actually pulled it off as a head coach in Denver and has been on the other end since his return to Foxborough. To it concisely, Belichick's coaching gives New England a massive advantage each week. But that edge is reduced against former assistants who know how things work in Foxborough and what adjustments or game plan wrinkles Belichick might make. It is what it is, apparently, as we have learned over the years.

Andy Hart

Hi Guys. The Patriots dedicate a lot of cap space and personnel to their special teams. This year they rank near the bottom of the league in kickoff and punt coverage. I know that Brandon Bolden was a core member of the special teams. But, his loss couldn't lead to that much regression in performance. I can't figure it out. Can you? Secondly, with the knowledge that your coverage units are underperforming, I think the Patriots would be better off kicking off into the end zone and trying to angle the punts out of bounds. Thanks guys.

Gary Madera

East Hanover, NJ

Bolden's departure can't be the reason for the slippage in coverage this season. And you are fair to say New England puts enough assets into special teams that it shouldn't statistically have, by far, the worst kickoff coverage unit in the NFL in November. Clearly part of that is a desire to put kickoffs near the goal line and force teams to return them in an effort to hold them inside the 25. It hasn't worked. Some of it has been less consistency than a year ago from Stephen Gostkowski in his kickoffs. But the coverage has been a bigger issue. One thing I would point to is that Matthew Slater, in his 11th season, doesn't appear to be the dominant coverage guy that he once was. He was a big part of the Patriots coverage group for the last decade and a slip in his game may be coinciding with a slip in the group as a whole. Joe Judge needs to find a way to improve the coverage because it hasn't been good enough. But I don't think trying to hit touchbacks all the time is the answer. I don't think that will always be an option come December and January in a windy, cold Gillette Stadium. So, the group and the coaches need to find a way to be better because these days it can't be much worse, including the game-opening 58-yard return allowed in Tennessee that kick started the Titans upset win.

Andy Hart

When your opponent says that "We knew we were going to beat those guys. We just had to be physical with them." Wow - what confidence, coming from a pretty average team, which delivered as promised. What does it say about Patriots?

Martin Luybomirski

It says they had a bad day. It says they were indeed pushed around a bit up front on both sides of the ball. But I don't necessarily think it is some grand statement on who they are definitively as a team. It was one game. One loss coming after a very impressive win. I won't pretend there aren't problems in New England, some that were highlighted by the Titans, but the sky is not falling. Again, it is what it is.

Andy Hart

Hi, since I really don't think Bill wanted to help out his old buddies Vrabel and Patricia, what are your thoughts on the way both of these ex-Patriots were able to come up with a plan to shut down the Patriots offense, which has looked pretty potent against everyone else? And why weren't we able to counter their strategy? Thanks guys.

Robert Naegele

The Patriots offense has had its ups and downs all season. It's not been nearly as potent in the past. It had its issues in Jacksonville, Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo and Tennessee. It wasn't great against Green Bay for stretches. My bigger question is why the team just can't seem to get it together on the road. You don't face too many former assistants too often. But you do need to be able to play on the road, and the way things are going maybe even play on the road in the postseason. So far this year, too many road games have been played on the home team's terms. That's a troubling trend with a pretty big sample of in-season data to pull from. If that doesn't change, these Patriots won't be going as far as people hope or expect.

Andy Hart

If you took all the best players from the Raiders and Bills and created one team, do you think they could beat the Saints?

Ryan Sylvestre

Without breaking it down completely player by player, my gut reaction is to say the Biders (see what I did there? Raills?) would win that game. Even with the Raiders limited contributions and sell-off, that would be a decent 53-man roster. My biggest question is who would coach this new team and would that be a good enough staff to beat Sean Payton?

Andy Hart

I don't care for the Dion Lewis "cheap" shot against his former team, but I agree with his assessment that Patriots are beatable. They are not a juggernaut to be feared. They excel at taking what the meek and injured teams give them, but when they face the motivated bullies, they fold. It happened this season and in the past. I really miss the Rodney Harrison times when nobody would push Patriots around, don't you?

Larry Lebin

I haven't thought too much about this, but I do wonder who the "tough" guy on the Patriots is right now. Harrison was certainly one of them back in the day when there were plenty to choose from. Logan Mankins certainly brought an edge to the line later. Now, I'm not so sure. It's also obviously a different game where a lot of the stuff that Harrison got away with would not be acceptable. As for Lewis, the "cheap" shot didn't bother me as much as him saying he knew his former teammates would "fold." I think that's a pretty low blow and classless thing to say about guys you played with just a year ago and who helped you earn a Super Bowl ring. If I were in the Patriots locker room that wouldn't sit well with me and I'd look forward to a possible rematch with the Titans in the postseason to show Lewis just how much I'd "fold" again. I know you can say what you want when you win and Lewis has a chip on his shoulder that helps him succeed, but that comment was a bit much for me.

Andy Hart

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