Tom Brady wouldn’t crack a list containing the top 20 best quarterbacks of all time, but he is undeniably the greatest to ever do it.
You see, there’s often this misconception with Brady – that nobody could touch him. Well, if the sport was played in a quarterback-v-quarterback scenario, nobody would be wondering what Tom is doing today, because he would have retired as a backup about a decade ago.
But there’s more to him, and to the wider Patriots organisation than simply the throws he makes. It’s often even more about the throws he doesn’t make because that was a small sacrifice for a double move later on.
There’s a reason this nobody out of Michigan was taken with the 199th overall pick in the NFL draft – because he wasn’t that talented.
But as he leaves New England, no matter what happens next, nobody, until perhaps Patrick Mahomes turns 30, will get near or next to him. Here are the five things that made Tom Brady the success he is.
I cannot get this point across enough. If you just look blankly at a defence, you will see what they want you to see. If you move an offensive player, and no defensive player goes with him, they’re in zone coverage.
Almost immediately, you can disregard a third of the defensive coverages in the league’s collective playbook.
New England were one of the first big-users. Tom Brady not only used motion on almost every snap but once he saw what he believed to be an indicator of a defensive look, he would audible at the line of scrimmage and put his team in a better play.
It won’t turn up on any highlight reel, but it’s the most beneficial thing a quarterback can do for his team.
“Oh, they’re killing it. Usually means a motion and a run out wide to the right.” – Tony Romo before Patriots' play
Brady motions; Sony Michel runs ball to right, scores touchdown. pic.twitter.com/PzxyrV2JoO
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 21, 2019
I’ve no doubt in my mind that this isn’t a Brady characteristic, but more of a by-product of learning under Bill and co. However, Brady perhaps best personifies it in a quarterback.
New England did not play conservatively when they led at home. They just didn’t. It’s the biggest trap people fall into in the league. If you think about it – the way you managed to get into that winning situation in the first place was via a certain scheme.
If you completely forsake that approach, you become little more than a predictable unit that just needs to be outnumbers in a given area of the field. It just didn’t happen in Foxboro, and it’s the reason why, comparatively, Tom Brady has a lot more strikes in the win column than your Philip Rivers of the world.
He also won enough games early in his career for teams to start playing prevent against him rather than attacking him. For the state of some of his offensive lines over the years, and the clear limited athletic ability he had, he wasn’t sacked that often.
Why? Because teams were afraid of him.
The Patriots with Bill Belichick & Tom Brady were the team that:
always seemed to make the best halftime adjustments, especially when losing.
Win % when trailing at half:
1. NE: 42%
2. GB: 33%
3. IND: 33%
4. SEA: 31%
5. PIT: 30%
NFL AVG = 22%
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 17, 2020
I hate that ‘it’s all about the team’ cliché. It’s very easy for millionaires to say these things. But Tom Brady could be far richer than he is now, if it wasn’t for the fact that he would sacrifice cash for glory – the ultimate sacrifice in a league set up to reward the most talented.
As the NFL operates on a salary cap, Brady would always be the highest earner as his position commands that, but he frequently took less money so the Patriots could build winning teams around him.
As I said, there’s far more to be going the greatest than there is to just being the best.
Cash earned, last 5 years (QBs):
1. 134M – Rodgers
2. 127M – Roethlisberger
3. 127M – Stafford
4. 117M – Ryan
5. 113M – Brees
6. 107M – Wilson
7. 102M – Eli Manning
8. 99M – Newton
9. 99M – Rivers
10. 99M – Cousins
11. 95M – Smith
12. 92M – Flacco
13. 81M – Brady <—-
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 17, 2020
Brady’s biggest assets were intangible. You couldn’t see them. This, while deserving of its own praise, meant New England could only ever operate certain schemes. But that couldn’t slow down this juggernaut because of his coverage recognition and understanding what routes beat what coverages.
In many ways, he was blessed to have a player like Julian Edelman, who could run every single route in the sport. This was key to his success. However, when people think of route concepts, they imagine posts and double moves. No, the best receivers get their depth right and are equally as effective on routes like slants and flats.
Here the #Patriots start Edelman in the backfield. #Chargers defense is scrambling to get Desmond King on him. Edelman motions into the slot, tips off man coverage to Brady and Gronk sets a little pick on King to help Edelman get to the first down. Easy. pic.twitter.com/Nl4hAf99IT
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) May 21, 2019
The Patriots had two approaches: attack zone with pre-snap reads and dictate personnel to get defences in matchup hell when it came to man coverage. They would draft players like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez because of their freakish wingspan. The same with N’Keal Harry.
But they can only use that when they’re isolated. Thankfully, Brady knew exactly how to make these scenarios come to fruition.
KC runs straight forward C1 man with no attempt at disguising. Not only that, they put the newest addition, Josh Shaw, in man coverage on Gronk on an island while Lucas plays man on a RB and Parker sits CF. Brady IDs this immediately, no adjustment just "go press Gronk kid". pic.twitter.com/oVAnivjhR3
— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 15, 2018