FOXBORO, Mass. — As nearly everyone has noticed, Tom Brady has seen the turf quite often this season.
This year, Brady has been sacked 26 times — good for 11th most in the NFL. That’s 2.88 sacks per game for New England. Last year, Brady was sacked just 27 times, or 1.69 times per game, which was good for 27th in the NFL.
There are many factors in play for that rise. In this week’s No-Huddle Offense, I’ll try to explain why those sack numbers have gone up and why it may be less of an issue than it seems.
1. The Patriots are facing tougher defensive lines. Last season, opposing defensive lines were averaging 2.36 sacks per game. This year, the Patriots’ eight opponents (they played the Jets twice) are averaging 2.73 sacks per game. While that doesn’t seem like much, it’s the difference between the 16th-best pass rushing defense and the 22nd best.
New England has faced especially tough interior lines. The Jets, Bills, Buccaneers and Bengals all have top-tier players rushing the quarterback from the inside. The Patriots’ interior offensive line has been a main source of the struggles too.
While there are factors at play that New England can control and improve, they don’t determine their schedule.
2. Logan Mankins has not appeared 100 percent health-wise. One of the biggest issues on the line is that their usual All-Pro left guard has not been playing at his typical high level. Mankins has allowed a team-high seven sacks this season, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s up from two sacks all of last season, when Mankins suited up for 10 games.
The bye should serve Mankins well. It could be the perfect opportunity for the Pro Bowler to get healthy and return to dominance.
3. Ryan Wendell started the year off shaky. The center has since resumed the high level of play he showcased last year, but he was allowing a lot of pressure in the first three games of the season.
4. Brady is taking more time to get rid of the ball. Last year, Brady took just 2.47 seconds to get rid of the ball, according to Pro Football Focus. This year, he’s taking 2.57 seconds. He averaged 3.39 seconds in the pocket per sack last year. This year, he’s averaging 3.57 seconds per sack.
So, Brady’s line is actually keeping him upright for longer. Brady is just staying in the pocket for longer, failing to get rid of the ball quickly.
5. That leads us to the next culprit. Obviously Brady’s receivers are not getting open quickly enough. That’s to be expected when the starting third-down back has been taken away since Week 1, Rob Gronkowski missed the first six weeks of the season and Danny Amendola missed time due to groin and head injuries. That’s not to mention losing Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd.
The new receivers have adapted well throughout the season, but it would be dumb to say these targets are as good as last year’s to this point. Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola have taken major strides lately. And as Gronkowski gets fully healthy and Shane Vereen comes back, Brady should be spending less time getting rid of the ball as his receivers get open more quickly.
6. So, as with most things in football, there’s not one factor to place blame or credit for the increase in sacks allowed. Brady isn’t trusting his receivers, who are having a tougher time getting open. And the offensive line is having trouble holding back tougher pass-rushing defensive lines.
7. It doesn’t get any easier for the Patriots this year. The seven teams remaining on New England’s schedule are averaging 3.11 sacks per game. They still have to face the teams with the second-most sacks this season (Buffalo), third (Baltimore), fifth (Cleveland) and eighth (Carolina).
8. I still don’t think the sacks are overly concerning. The Patriots are still 7-2 and Brady looked much improved against the Steelers. This offense will get a lot better with Vereen coming in.
9. The defense will get a boost when Aqib Talib returns from his hip injury. Isaac Sopoaga looked good against Pittsburgh, but he can only improve, as well.
10. There’s almost no chance Armond Armstead or Mark Harrison return this year. Armstead has been seen around the facility, but there are still huge question marks surrounding his undisclosed surgery to treat an infection. Harrison hasn’t been seen in Foxboro now for a couple months. He broke his foot during the NFL scouting combine, so he should be healthy. But if either player is left on the non-football injury/illness list, they don’t need to be paid this season.
11. Brandon Bolden has been dealing with a knee injury for weeks now. He’s been spending time on a stationary bike while the rest of the team jogs to start practice. Running backs coach Ivan Fears noted last week it will be nice to get him some rest when Vereen returns.