Tom Brady and the Buccaneers have been held to fewer than 251 total yards in two of their last three games and need to figure it out quickly.
The two biggest problems appear to be: Brady is heaving way too many deep passes, and the receivers aren’t getting many yards after the catch.
The deep ball was never Brady’s forte, but this year he has been especially bad, while also throwing an uncharacteristically high volume. Brady has attempted an NFL-high 58 passes that have traveled at least 21 yards in the air, yet he has completed just 14 for two touchdowns and four interceptions. That has resulted in a 46.1 passer rating on deep passes that ranks second-lowest among qualifying starters, ahead of only Denver’s Drew Lock. As noted by NFL Research, Brady has missed on his last 22 — twenty-two! — deep attempts.
Brady’s 58 deep pass attempts in 11 games are more than he had last year in 16 games (52). He is on pace for 84 deep passes, which would set a career high (he had 82 in 2004, and 73 in 2017).
The other major problem is Brady’s receivers are not running with the ball after the catch. In last week’s loss to the Rams, Antonio Brown made a few impressive sideline catches, but Brady was not able to get him the ball in space to utilize Brown’s elite speed.
Brady’s receivers average 4.0 yards after catch per reception, which ranks 29th among 33 qualifying quarterbacks and would be the lowest average of Brady’s career. Last year, he ranked 17th and averaged 5.3 yards after catch. In 2018, he ranked ninth (5.8). Brady has only had one season under 5.0 yards (4.6 in 2004), and in his Patriots career he averaged 5.6.
The struggles and disconnect have led to some finger-pointing. Coach Bruce Arians said he doesn’t know why Brady isn’t hitting deep passes in games, because he’s doing it in practice. Arians also said that Brady is calling a lot of his own plays, and that the Buccaneers’ offense depends on “if the quarterback plays well or not,” insinuating that the team’s struggles are on Brady.
But Arians had better be careful, because the Buccaneers are more committed to Brady than they are Arians in 2021. Brady has a fully guaranteed salary of $25 million next year, so he will be back unless he retires (don’t count on it). Arians’s contract is not known, but his salary is likely in the $5 million range.
Should the Buccaneers sputter to the finish line, and Brady and Arians continue not to click, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bucs looking for a new coach in a few months.