Tom Brady needs to stop hogging the ball.
The Patriots haven’t found too much success in the passing game this season, and a lot of that has to do with an over-reliance on Brady. The 36-year-old quarterback is throwing the ball more than ever this season, and the Patriots are suffering because of it.
Brady has thrown the ball 285 times this season, giving him the third most pass attempts in the league through seven games. Only Matthew Stafford (290) and Peyton Manning (289) have chucked it more in 2013, although both of them are also completing above 61 percent — Manning hitting 71.6 — of their passes compared to Brady’s career-worst 55.4 completion percentage. While the Patriots have transitioned into a more pass-heavy attack in recent seasons, Brady is throwing the ball more through seven games this season than he has at any point in his career.
Throughout his 12 seasons prior, Brady averaged just under 34 pass attempts per game. This season, the two-time MVP is slinging it just a shade under 41 times a game, which would set a new career high for him. Brady set a new career high for pass attempts last season, tossing 637 passes — fourth most in the NFL, but even that added up to only about 39 tosses per game. The league’s new pass-oriented style has seen pass attempts steadily rise over the past few seasons, but, where others have improved with the increase, Brady appears to be struggling with the extended workload.
While the Patriots’ offense has been predicated on the passing game for some time now, there was a seismic shift in Brady’s role between the 2010 and 2011 seasons. In 2010, Brady threw just 492 passes — the third fewest total in any full season of his career. That number bloated by more than 100 the following season, with Brady throwing it 611 times. The transition appeared to be a wild success as the Patriots came within a few minutes and one untimely drop of capturing a fourth Super Bowl. A closer look at the numbers seems to tell a different story, though.
Since the start of the 2011 season, Brady has 1,533 pass attempts — only Stafford and Drew Brees have more in that time — which averages out to a little more than 39 passes per game. And it just so happens that 39 figure is the exact threshold between success and failure for Brady and the Patriots.
Brady has thrown 40 or more passes in 16 of the Patriots’ 39 games since the start of the 2011 season. In those games, Brady actually completes a higher percentage of his passes (64.6) than his average (62.6) over the last two-plus seasons, though that is essentially the only positive in those games.
Brady has been intercepted 25 times in total since the start of 2011, and a staggering 20 of them have come in those 40-plus passing games. The Patriots also score fewer points in games where Brady throws that much as well, averaging 26.9 points per game when he tosses it more than 40 times compared to 34.3 points per when he doesn’t. Then, of course, there’s the impact on the win-loss record.
The Patriots have just a 9-7 regular-season record in games when Brady throws it at least 40 times — 1-2 in the postseason, including the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. On the contrary, the Patriots are 21-2 when he throws fewer than 40 passes in a game. It seems there’s a trend here, and one that needed to amended.
Brady completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for the third time this season in Sunday’s loss to the Jets — the most in any season of his 13-year career — and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he also threw the ball 46 times in that loss.
The Patriots’ offense should ride on Brady’s shoulders — there’s no debating that. Even at 36 years old and struggling mightily with accuracy issues, Brady is still one of the best offensive weapons in the league. And this isn’t suggesting a pitch count of sorts for Brady in games, because it’s almost impossible to control such a thing in the NFL. But there is a pretty fine line between where Brady excels and where he fails.
Brady will continue to be the focal point of the offense, and the Patriots will continue their pass-heavy approach. But maybe they would benefit from establishing even slightly more balance. It could make a huge difference.