Bill Belichick broke down the Patriots’ top plays of the win over the Bengals for the team website on Tuesday, and devoted six minutes to Stephon Gilmore’s pick-6, Rex Burkhead’s 33-yard touchdown run, and the Patriots’ kickoff coverage and field goal operation.
Missing from the video was a guy you may have heard of — Tom Brady.
The Patriots may have dominated the Bengals on Sunday, 34-13, but good plays from Brady and the passing game were tough to come by. Brady completed just 15 of 29 passes for 128 yards against one of the worst statistical defenses in the league.
Brady’s 4.41 yards per attempt were the eighth-fewest in his career, and continued a disturbing trend. Four of his worst 16 games in terms of yards per attempt have come this year: Buffalo (3.85, fourth-worst), Cincinnati, Philadelphia (4.60, 13th), and Kansas City (4.69, 16th).
The struggles aren’t all on Brady. His offensive line hasn’t been great, his receivers don’t consistently get open, Julian Edelman is hobbling through shoulder and knee injuries, and Brady is dealing with an elbow injury that is clearly affecting him.
But Brady shouldn’t escape blame, either. Bad elbow or no, lack of weapons or no, Brady is playing like a shell of his former self, and Sunday in Cincinnati was one of the worst performances he has had in a while.
Let’s break down the few areas in which Brady seems to be struggling:
1. His accuracy is a mess
Brady’s issues surfaced on the first play of the game on Sunday, a play in which he struggled on two fronts. First, Brady badly overthrew Mohamed Sanu on a crossing route that was wide open. Brady used to hit that throw in his sleep. Also on that play, Brady never saw Sony Michel streaking wide open in the flat — an easier throw that probably would have had a longer gain (more on Brady’s vision in a few).
Brady’s poor accuracy appeared again inside the red zone in the second half on a rollout throw to Michel in the flat. The play-action fake fooled the defense, and a good throw into Michel’s midsection would have resulted in an easy touchdown. Instead, Brady threw low and behind Michel for an incompletion and a wasted opportunity. Even Scott Zolak couldn’t believe Brady’s poor accuracy on this throw on the radio broadcast. Fortunately for the Patriots, they scored a touchdown two plays later.
Brady also sailed another throw to Sanu late in the second quarter. He had Sanu streaking wide open down the left seam, and Brady should have hit him for a 21-yard touchdown but threw the ball way over Sanu’s head. The Patriots weren’t as lucky on this drive, having to settle for a field goal.
Interestingly, on this play Sanu is seen slowing down halfway through his route, before turning on the jets again at the last second. Perhaps this was the reason the throw was too far — Brady and Sanu weren’t totally in synch. Which leads us to our second factor . . .
2. Brady’s timing with his receivers is off
You see it on the incompletion to Sanu above, where the receiver and the quarterback weren’t on the same page. Brady’s timing is also unusually off with Edelman, perhaps because the receiver is so banged up. With 4:41 left in the second quarter, Brady should have had a big catch-and-run on a slant to Edelman. But Edelman stumbled out of his break, Brady threw it a hair too early, and the ball deflected off Edelman’s hands for an incompletion.
On the next play, a slant to N’Keal Harry, Brady prepares to throw, double-clutches, then throws behind Harry for another incompletion.
And, of course, we all remember the Houston game, when Brady screamed his head off at Phillip Dorsett for not being on the same page with hand signals and adjustments.
With Brady skipping offseason workouts, and now being limited in several practices because of his elbow injury, the offense just looks like a unit that hasn’t worked together much.
3. Brady is locking in on Edelman too much
One of Brady’s go-to sayings is that his favorite receiver is “the open one,” and that he throws the ball to wherever the coverage dictates. But that isn’t happening. Edelman is the only one Brady fully trusts, and Brady is locking in on Edelman and not seeing the entire field.
On second and 10 early in the first quarter, Brady stared down Edelman the whole way, then still threw too wide and too hard for Edelman to come up with the catch. Had Brady scanned the field, he would have seen Burkhead streaking wide open across the middle for a potential big catch-and-run.
Right after the two-minute warning in the second quarter, Brady had all day in the pocket, and finally threw a little flare pass to the right side to Edelman that was stuffed for minus-2 yards. Brady never saw Sanu streaking across the middle of the field for another potentially big catch-and-run (or he did see Sanu but doesn’t trust him).
And even when Brady completes a nice throw to Edelman, he can leave yards on the table. Brady hit Edelman for an 11-yard gain on a quick out pass early in the second quarter, but Harry was streaking wide open across the middle of the field (sense a pattern?) and Brady could have hit him for a nice chunk play.
It’s understandable that Brady is locking onto Edelman, but it is holding the offense back, especially since Edelman isn’t close to 100 percent.
Brady is not the only one to blame for the offensive struggles. Sanu let a fourth-and-4 pass slip right through his hands. On one first-and-10 incompletion to Sanu, Brady had great protection to scan the field, but no one could get open.
And the offensive line has been inconsistent — on third and 8 and the Patriots in scoring position at the end of the first half, Carlos Dunlap blew right past Marcus Cannon and sacked Brady before the QB knew what hit him. Perhaps the offensive line inconsistencies have played into Brady’s subpar accuracy, and his penchant for locking onto Edelman.
It’s not all bad for Brady and the Patriots, either. Brady made a tremendous play on the 7-yard touchdown pass to Harry — buying time in the pocket, resetting his feet in the face of the pass rush, and hitting Harry on the run with a dart right between the numbers.
The Patriots’ screen game was excellent, with a 23-yard touchdown to James White on third and 10, and a 14-yarder to Michel inside the red zone. And Harry was a revelation against the Bengals, running with great power on two end-arounds for 22 yards (looking like Cordarrelle Patterson) and showing tremendous athleticism on a 36-yard catch on a jump ball down the sideline (a play that was wiped out by a penalty).
But this isn’t the Brady we’re used to seeing. His elbow may be hurt, and he may not have great weapons around him, but Brady is contributing to the offensive woes with unusually poor play by his standards.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin