When Wes Welker or Julian Edelman was on the field, Tom Brady could dink and dunk with the best of them. But the New England Patriots employ a different complement of wide receivers in 2017, and their quarterback is finding a new way to take advantage.
Brady completed 30 of 37 passes Sunday in the Patriots’ 33-8 drubbing of the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City. Six of those 30 completions went for 15 yards or more, including two 50-plus-yard bombs to Brandin Cooks, one of which resulted in a touchdown.
Cooks, Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan (who was inactive Sunday) all are speedy deep threats who have given New England’s offense a new dimension in 2017 with the sure-handed Edelman out of the picture. During an appearance Monday on WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan” radio show, Brady admitted there’s been a conscious plan for the offense to hit on more home run plays this season.
“I think that has been a concerted effort by our entire offense of trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game,” Brady said, via WEEI.com. “Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. I mean, the way Brandin runs, the way Chris Hogan runs, the way Phillip Dorsett runs, they are very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set.
“I think our team has always done a good job — I mean, when we had David Patten we were throwing it deep, but David Patten didn’t run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks in general, he doesn’t run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role.”
Brady indeed is taking more shots down the field this season. His 11 passing plays of 40 yards or more through Week 11 is just four shy of his career high in a season (15 in 2007). He’s also averaging more completed air yards (7.3) and intended air yards (9.6) than he did in 2016, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats.
Deep passes obviously have a lower success rate than throwing 5-yard crossing patterns. So, what’s the benefit of swinging for the fences?
“If we can get by you, I think that is a great place to throw the ball,” Brady added. “If we can’t, you have to figure out ways to throw it underneath and I think different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths and weaknesses of the defense we are playing. I just feel like I try and read it out and make a good throw every time.
“Obviously, when you’re throwing the ball 50 (to) 60 yards down the field, your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive play and you can change field position and really get a defense on its heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field.”
The Patriots are the only NFL team averaging over 300 passing yards per game (304.5), so their strategy clearly is working.