Has Tom Brady’s inevitable decline begun?

Tom Brady can’t play at a high level forever. Deep down, Patriots fans realize this and are fearfully awaiting the day that his inevitable decline begins.

In the past, we’ve seen plenty of analysts prematurely write the lede on Brady’s career obituary after a rough stretch of results, only for the greatest quarterback ever to quickly prove those doubters wrong. But, typically, a more in-depth look at Brady’s rough patches reveals the root of whatever problems he may appear to be having.

Brady is in the middle of one of those rough patches right now. Mind you, that a bad run for the future hall-of-famer would be considered a good one for about 90% of starting quarterbacks. Brady is still completing 67.5% of his passes with a passer rating of 97.6. Those are undoubtedly good numbers, but we have come to expect more than good from Brady.

For the first time since the 2013 season, we cannot say “this version of Tom Brady is better than the one we saw last season.” The 2018 Brady is a clearly step down from what we saw during his MVP campaign in 2017. And we now have statistical evidence backing that up…

Only Mitch Trubisky has been less accurate than Brady this season! The most precise quarterback we’ve ever seen has been one of the least precise quarterbacks in 2018. Based on that alone, it’s fair to speculate that, at 41, Brady might’ve lost a few MPH off his fastball.

But as many people have mentioned in the replies to the tweet above, those numbers lack context. Brady didn’t have Julian Edelman for the first four games, Rob Gronkowski doesn’t look the same and Josh Gordon, the team’s de facto No. 1 receiver, is still learning the offense.

To that, I’d say Brady has never had problems working in new receivers in the past and 81.3% of his attempts have been thrown to receivers who were on the Patriots roster before this season. Gordon is the only new player with more than 20 targets.

We should also point out that Brady ranks 24th in the league in NextGen Stats’ “Completion Percentage Over Expectation,” which is based on depth of target and receiver separation, among other factors. So there isn’t only one metric suggesting Brady isn’t completing as many passes as he should be.

Just to be fair, let’s ignore those arguments and try to add some context to Brady’s off-target throw percentage. To do so, we went back and looked at every incomplete pass he’s thrown since Week 5 – Edelman’s first game back – and placed them into six categories: Inaccurate, intentional, miscommunication, drop and defense.

See the footage on FTW.

Of the 43 incompletions Brady has thrown over the last four games, 17 were the result of a poor throw. That accounts for 10.6% of this total attempts over that time.

While that number isn’t nearly as bad as 21.3%, it still isn’t very good. We’ve done similar studies for other NFL quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Josh Rosen and Tyrod Taylor, and their results were more favorable than Brady’s. The closest to Brady was Taylor. While Taylor may be a bit underrated, that is not the company Brady should be in.

Brady’s tape is actually a lot more concerning than the numbers. He has thrown an uncharacteristically high number of bad throws over the last months. He’s missing the kind of throws he used to make with ease.

And there is a distinct pattern to his inaccuracy: When he misses on shorter, driven throws, he almost always misses low to stationary targets or wide to moving targets. When he’s missed perimeter throws downfield, the ball has been high and to the outside.

These are typically the kind of misses we see from quarterbacks with an arm strength deficiency. Brady has never had the strongest arm but it’s never been a problem for him. That may be starting to change as Brady gets deeper into his 40s.

It’s obvious that Brady hasn’t been his typical self. But can we say Brady isn’t every going to be his typical self again? Those are two very different statements. If Brady is in decline, we’d next have to figure out how steep that decline will be — it’s certainly not out of the question that one of the most dedicated players we’ve ever seen finds a way to adjust. But if he doesn’t it will be fair to wonder whether Patriots offense can still be as good as it needs to be to compete for a Super Bowl without No. 12 playing at an elite level. For years Brady — and elite coaching — has helped elevate a mishmash of players to keep the Patriots toward the top of the league. Eventually he’s going to need some help, and he’s not getting it now.

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