Patriots-Chargers Film Review: Tom Brady Relied Heavily On Running Backs

Tom Brady has used books, recipes, a therapy center and fancy pajamas to convince the world he can play quarterback into his mid-40s. The New England Patriots clearly are buying what he’s selling.

Brady’s 25-year-old backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, reportedly was traded to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. That leaves Brady as the only quarterback on the Patriots’ roster. And while Brady didn’t have his best game Sunday as the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Chargers 21-13, he certainly made some throws that proved he’s still at the top of his game at 40 years old.

One of those went to his pass-catching running back James White with 1:19 left in the first half as the Patriots were driving down the field.

Brady had solid protection as Patriots left tackle Nate Solder redirected pass rusher Joey Bosa 360 degrees around his quarterback. Brady was able to hold onto the ball for so long that it became a scramble drill for his receivers where they had to adjust their routes on the fly just to get open.

White began the play helping right tackle LaAdrian Waddle by chipping pass rusher Melvin Ingram.

Brady used some non-verbal communication by simply pointing at White to make him turn upfield. Brady delivered a strike to White on first-and-10 that hit the running back in stride and allowed him to continue for a 25-yard gain.

It was perhaps Brady’s best throw and play of the game and highlighted many of his best qualities. He didn’t panic, despite having one of the NFL’s best pass rushers literally running a circle around him while using the trust and practice preparation to make a play that might not have been there without four years of experience with White before delivering a perfect throw.

Of Brady’s 32 completions and 47 attempts Sunday, 14 and 18 went to running backs. Almost half of Brady’s 333 yards were picked up by running backs.

Brady clearly liked throwing to running back Rex Burkhead, who returned in Week 7 from a rib injury. Burkhead was targeted six times, and he caught five passes for 85 yards, including this one.

Brady went back to his running backs so often because the Chargers seemed intent to prevent any and all big plays. Sometimes that left the middle of the field wide open. Burkhead ran a crossing route out of the backfield and had to beat one defender for a first down. He did just that shaking safety Adrian Phillips out of his shoes on a spin move.

Burkhead hasn’t shown that kind of shiftiness as a ball-carrier yet, relying more on his power on handoffs. But Burkhead has soft hands and sudden quickness when he has the ball in his hands. I still think Burkhead could be dealt before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. NFL trade deadline, but the deal would have to be right. They’re not giving him away for free. The Patriots clearly like Burkhead’s skillset and the ability to use four running backs.

Some other notes from this week’s film review:

— The Patriots made good use out of two-running back sets. They completed two passes, one to White and one to Burkhead, out of that formation. It’s taxing on the defense because it’s two extra players to keep track of. Will they run the ball? Will one stay in to block? Will neither? Will both?

— It still feels like the Patriots could use more athleticism at linebacker, but Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and David Harris fared well in place of Dont’a Hightower on Sunday. Will it hold? We’ll see. Van Noy especially looked comfortable as a hybrid-edge player. Shea McClellin potentially could take over that position when he comes off of injured reserve, however.

— Harris played especially well as a blitzer. It’s worth seeing if he can keep that up in the future.

— Wide receiver Brandin Cooks found himself on the ground a lot immediately after receptions. It was reminiscent of a Brandon Lloyd performance. He wasn’t dropping the ball, but the most egregious example came on a screen when Cooks lost 2 yards by catching the ball then falling.

— It was a solid performance overall for the Patriots’ offensive line, despite the fact that they let up a ton of hurries to Bosa and Ingram. Brady mostly was kept clean, which is of utmost importance, especially now that he’s the only quarterback on the roster.

— Who was at fault on Melvin Gordon’s 87-yard carry? It appeared to be Cassius Marsh, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. Butler impressed with his speed to nearly chase Gordon down, however.

— Trey Flowers had to jump over the Chargers’ offensive line to get back onside before Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers snapped and spiked the ball late in the fourth quarter. Good hustle.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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