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brady article in wall street journal


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interesting piece on tommy boy.  give him credit for changing his game first coming out of college and then as he moves into older age.  other teams can be just as successful with these short passing games.   heck anyone remember stormin normin and the giaints?  that was all dink and dunk.

Andrew Beaton
Jan. 29, 2019 8:06 a.m. ET

ATLANTA—Tom Brady looked nothing like an NFL quarterback at the league’s pre-draft combine in 2000. His legs were the size of toothpicks, and his college resume consisted of being a benchwarmer who struggled to keep the starting job once he finally won it.

“You wouldn’t recognize this guy,” said Gil Brandt, the longtime NFL personnel guru. “He was really chicken-chested.”


Brady was drafted by the New England Patriots in the sixth round, bulked up, and made a remarkable transformation from forgettable prospect to generational star. A brief history of his career since includes ranking near the top of nearly every all-time passing statistic, winning more playoff games than any quarterback in league history and taking home five Super Bowl wins.

As he seeks a sixth title with the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl, his presence represents another incredible evolution. The same quarterback who took the league by storm as a young man of 24 has now mastered playing as an elite quarterback at 41—an old man, by NFL standards. If the Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams, Brady would become the oldest starting quarterback to win the Super Bowl.

There are plenty of theories that attempt to explain Brady’s unprecedented combination of longevity and success. Brady frequently credits his health regimen. Others note his tireless work ethic and preparation. Maybe he’s a well-disguised robot.

But there’s a more convincing explanation that has nothing to do with his affinity for avocado ice cream. Brady has adjusted his game to compensate for all the things that a quarterback loses as he ages. He makes up for decreased mobility and diminishing arm strength by throwing the ball quickly and short. He avoids injury the same way, and as a result is rarely hit.

Brady, in practice, is the middle-aged guy at the YMCA who can no longer dunk or get up and down the court but somehow outscores all the people half his age anyway.

“You either evolve and get better, or you go home,” said Tom House, a former baseball pitcher who works with quarterbacks including Brady.

The quarterback Brady evolved from was once a dangerous downfield passer. His most prolific season came throwing bombs to the electric wide receiver Randy Moss. At a time when quarterbacks were less protected by the game’s rulebook, he fearlessly waited in the pocket to launch big passes deep down the field.

But Brady no longer has Moss or anybody who even resembles Moss. That’s because Brady is different than he was a decade ago. Julian Edelman, who excels at running after he catches the ball on short or mid-length passes, leads the playoffs in receiving yards.

Brady’s changing targets are a product of his changing game. This season he has taken 2.61 seconds on average to get rid of his passes—one of the fastest releases in the league. It’s no coincidence that Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and other aging quarterbacks are also among the quickest.

But where Brady has surpassed all of them is making sure he throws the ball before a defender can touch him. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots had the NFL’s lowest adjusted sack percentage, a metric that calculates sacks per pass attempt and adjusts for situational factors such as down, distance and opponent.


“If you pressure him, he’ll get the ball out fast,” said Ejiro Evero, the Rams’ safeties coach. “It’s just a mastery of the position.”

Throwing the ball quickly means throwing the ball shorter. Receivers simply don’t have the same time to get open downfield. This also happens to be perfect for a quadragenarian who may no longer possess the same arm strength that he did in his prime.

Brady’s average pass this season went 7.6 yards in the air beyond the line of scrimmage, according to Stats LLC. That wasn’t at the bottom of the league but it represented a marked difference from the rest of his career, when his passes averaged 8.3 air yards, or 9% longer than they did in 2018.

“Great players change,” said Bill Johnson, the Rams’ 63-year-old defensive line coach who referenced his own belly to make a comparison. “My waistline ain’t the same as it was 10 years ago, but I feel like I’m a better coach right now.”

The exact opposite of his style was on display in the AFC Championship. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, unlike Brady, possesses the athleticism and mobility to extend plays. He also has immense arm strength—his average pass attempt went 21% farther than Brady’s, and he took 11% longer to throw.

The player who most distinctly shows how differently Brady has been playing than the Brady of yesteryear happens to not be Brady. It’s a running back.

The Patriots’ James White leads all players—including running backs, receivers and tight ends—with 19 catches this postseason. His 15 catches in the divisional round against the Los Angeles Chargers tied an NFL record for most receptions ever in a playoff game.

White is Brady’s perfect weapon: Running backs don’t typically catch passes downfield and they’re frequently open near the line of scrimmage. White actually has more yards after the catch in the playoffs, 167, than he does receiving yards, 146, because he frequently catches the ball behind the line of scrimmage.

This has been a growing trend for Brady. He completed 28.3% of his passes to running backs in 2018, the highest rate of his entire career. This came after he set career-highs in 2017, 2016 and 2015, too. He relies more and more on the player who begins the play standing right next to him.

These trends have not gone unnoticed on the field. Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman—the same player who had a crazy idea to clobber a Saints receiver in the NFC Championship and infamously got away without a penalty—did something that may be crazier later: He said Brady had lost a step.

“I’m not scared of Tom Brady,” Robey-Coleman said.

There’s some reason for this. Brady’s passer rating was his lowest in four years. He threw double-digit interceptions for the first time since 2013. His yards per attempt fell for the second straight year.

But it doesn’t take a long trip down memory lane to see Brady is as dangerous as ever. Trailing in the AFC Championship, Brady marched the offense downfield for a touchdown with 39 seconds left. In overtime, the Patriots got the ball first. Brady led New England downfield for the game-winning touchdown. The Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes never got the chance to touch the ball.

And that meant Brady had just outdueled the best quarterback in the NFL this season for a trip to a ninth Super Bowl.

Write to Andrew Beaton at andrew.beaton@wsj.com

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