Have you noticed how 39-year-old Tom Brady is somehow defying father time and all logic by improving every season? Want in on a little secret? The difference is his deep ball.
Brady was 37-of-75 for 1,177 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception with a 129.3 passer rating while throwing over 15 yards during the 2016 regular season. He went 48 of 95 for 1,497 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions with a 127.1 passer rating on deep balls, including the playoffs. That’s, uh, really good.
At 39, Brady had the best season of his career throwing the deep ball. His previous regular season career high in passer rating on deep balls came in 2011 at 120.7. His previous season career high in passer rating on deep balls including playoffs also came in 2011 at 106.3.
Overall, Brady completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns and two interceptions with a 112.2 passer rating in 12 games this season. If he put up similar deep ball numbers to 2015 (while extracting a quarter of the stats to account for 2016’s suspension), he would have finished with a 66 completion percentage and 103.3 passer rating, which is almost identical to 2015’s 102.2 passer rating.
As Brady’s deep ball improves, Brady improves.
Brady once was one of the best deep throwers in the NFL. He didn’t finish 2007 through 2011 with a deep ball passer rating lower than 104.4. Then it precipitously dropped to 82.9 in 2012, 80 in 2013, dipped as low as 78 in 2014 and rose back up to 89.2 in 2015. Brady’s overall numbers have improved every season since 2013.
It’s almost difficult to recall now, but fans were begging Brady to stop throwing deep during that dip from 2012 to 2014. Nothing good came of Brady chucking it long to players like Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell.
So, why did Brady’s deep ball improve so dramatically in 2016? Having a big, speedy wideout like Chris Hogan certainly didn’t hurt. He caught 11 of 20 deep attempts for 415 yards with three touchdowns. He’s been even more stellar in the playoffs, catching 8 of 9 deep attempts for 227 yards with two touchdowns.
The odd thing is Hogan wasn’t nearly as good with other quarterbacks chucking deep to him. He caught for 37.5 percent of deep pass attempts from 2011 to 2015 before joining the Patriots this offseason.
So, did Brady’s deep ball drop off and then start to improve again, or did the Patriots just lose targets who could stretch the field? It seems like a combination of the two.
The Patriots certainly had better players to haul in Brady’s deep targets this season with Hogan, Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett in the offense. They caught 55 percent, 60 percent and 100 percent of Brady’s deep targets, respectively. (A side note: Brady needs to STOP throwing to Julian Edelman on routes over 15 yards. Brady was just 9-of-31 for 236 yards with no touchdowns on deep balls to Edelman during the regular season.)
Brady also has admitted he’s worked heavily on improving his downfield accuracy in recent seasons. It became a legitimate weakness for him after 2011, and as he improves his strength and athleticism, his deep ball has come back with it.
There’s a reason Brady seems to have no intention of retiring anytime soon. He’s 39 years old and still managing to improve in seemingly all facets of the game from his arm strength to athleticism.
It would be difficult for Brady to get any better at throwing deep in 2017. But it’s also pretty difficult to lead your team to seven Super Bowls, including Sunday’s against the Atlanta Falcons, and the Patriots QB has managed that. Let’s not put anything past him yet.
Thumbnail photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images