The Patriots’ offense has struggled mightily this season, and quarterback Tom Brady increasingly is unable to mask his frustration as the team enters the final month of the regular season. Fingers have been pointed at the unit as a whole, which was beset by offseason departures and injuries both on the offensive line and at receiver.
The loss of tackle Trent Brown to free agency was supposed to be mitigated by Isaiah Wynn, but the 2018 first-round pick was injured in Week 2, and the Patriots were left scrambling to find a body to protect Brady’s blindside until Wynn returned in Week 12.
Add in last season’s starting center, David Andrews, being ruled out in the preseason because of blood clots in his lungs, and the Patriots were down two members of the five-man offensive line entrusted with keeping Brady upright.
Yet as bad as things have looked this season, a look at Next Gen Stats indicates that the dropoff, at least in numbers, is not as drastic. In some instances though, the difference is dramatic when including 2017 as well.
Here are a few categories in which we compared this season’s production with that of 2018.
Time to throw (TT)
This measures the average amount of time elapsed from the time of the snap to throw on every pass attempt. It excludes sacks. In 2018, Brady was getting rid of the ball in 2.62 seconds. This season, he is holding on to the ball just a bit longer, for 2.74 seconds. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton gets the ball out the fastest, in 2.43 seconds.
Average completed air yards (CAY) and average intended air yards (IAY)
Air yards is yards on a pass attempt the moment the ball is caught in relation to the line of scrimmage. CAY shows the average air yards a quarterback throws on completions, and IAY shows the average air yards a quarterback throws on all attempts. It is designed to show how far the ball is being thrown downfield. Brady’s numbers in both categories have stayed virtually the same. His CAY this season is 5.7, compared with 5.6 in 2018. In each of the last two seasons, his IAY is 7.7. Both numbers were higher in 2017, with Brady’s CAY 6.6 and his IAY 9.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is tops in the league with a CAY of 8.3 and an IAY of 10.7.
Average air yards differential (AYD)
Air yards differential is calculated by subtracting the quarterback’s average intended air yards from his average completed air yards. This stat indicates if Brady on average is attempting deep passes than he, on average, completes. Brady’s AYD this season is -1.9, whereas last season it was -2.
Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota had the lowest differential with -1.3, while Miami’s Josh Rosen had the highest differential at -4.
Longest completed air distance (LCAD)
Air distance is the amount of yards the ball has traveled on a pass, from the point of release to the point of reception. Unlike air yards, air distance measures the actual distance the passer throws the ball. For Brady, the LCAD is 50.9 this season, and 49.9 last season. In 2017, perhaps benefiting from a deep threat in Brandin Cooks, his number was 58.
Kirk Cousins of the Vikings and Jared Goff of the Rams have the highest LCAD at 60.5.
Aggressiveness tracks the amount of passing attempts a quarterback makes that are into tight coverage, where there is a defender within 1 yard or less of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion. AGG is shown as a percentage of attempts into tight windows over all passing attempts. There has been a nearly 2 percent increase in Brady’s pass attempts into tight coverage this season, at 15.8. Last season it was 13.9. This appears to indicate his receivers aren’t getting open in the same fashion as last season. However, if you go back to 2017, the percentage of Brady’s pass attempts into tight coverage was 17.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has the lowest percentage of attempts into tight coverage at 10.
Air yards to the sticks (AYTS)
Air yards to the sticks shows the amount of air yards ahead or behind the first-down marker on all passing attempts. The metric indicates if the quarterback is attempting passes beyond the first-down marker, or if he is relying on his skill position players to make yards after the catch. This season, Brady is attempting passes 1.5 yards short of the first-down marker. Last season it was 1.1 yards short of the marker, while in 2017 it was just .2 yards short of the marker, when both Cooks and Rob Gronkowski were among Brady’s targets.
Stafford also leads this category, attempting passes 1.8 yards beyond the first-down marker.
A look at some of the receiving categories is enlightening as well.
Average targeted air yards (TAY)
This illustrates the average passing air yards per target for a receiver, by measuring the yards downfield at the time of all passing attempts that the receiver is the target. This stat indicates how far down the field they are being targeted on average. In 2017, that number was 15.1 for Cooks. For Julian Edelman, it is 9.3. Phillip Dorsett leads the team with 13.1, but he has only been targeted 48 times for 28 receptions. Edelman has 82 receptions on 124 targets.
Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams is at the top of the list at 16.8.
Percentage share of team’s air yards (TAY%)
This is the sum of the receivers total intended air yards (all attempts) over the sum of his team’s total intended air yards. This statistic represents what percentage of a team’s deep yards does the player account for. In 2017, Cooks (with Edelman missing the entire season because of an injury) accounted for 32.86, which Edelman is averaging this year. In 2018, it was evenly spread with Josh Gordon at 22.9, and Gronkowski (19.97), and Edelman (19.16) close behind.
Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton has the greatest percentage of Denver’s intended air yards at 44.72.
Without a strong secondary option, teams are able to key on Edelman, which is what happened in Sunday night’s loss to Houston, effectively limiting the offense, and illustrating why Brady and the Patriots are hoping rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers can figure things out in a hurry.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.