FOXBORO — When waves of pressure have crashed upon Tom Brady’s shores this season, he’s often weathered the storm. It’s the rest of the offense that’s been swallowed by the sea.
The Patriots have performed poorly against the blitz, including last weekend when Kansas City closed out a 23-16 win at Gillette Stadium — the first by a visiting team since 2017 — with an all-out barrage of the backfield. On the key play, Brady delivered an on-target throw to Julian Edelman, but it nonetheless fell incomplete. The Chiefs had already blitzed the Pats more than most of their opponents, and they weren’t about to stop with the game on the line.
Repeatedly, Brady did his part, as he has most of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brady’s adjusted completion percentage — which measures accurate passes instead of completed ones — is 71.1% this season against the blitz, almost 20 points higher than his standard completion percentage under the same circumstances. Opponents have seen the strain that blitzing puts on Brady’s communication with his young receivers and inconsistent offensive line.
If there’s a blueprint to beating the Pats, extra man coverage and pass-rushers is it.
The larger problem for Brady’s bunch is it suits their projected playoff competition. The Ravens blitz more than any team in the league, and Kansas City has proven it’s willing to come after Brady. Of all the Patriots’ offensive issues to fix, performing better against the blitz must be addressed.
Sunday’s game at Cincinnati should offer a fine starting point.
“This is a team that will blitz everybody,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels of the Bengals earlier this week. “Everybody will get a turn to make some disruptive plays, which is always a challenge to your communication and ability to handle those situations well.”
Against Kansas City, Brady went 6-of-11 versus blitzes, took a sack, was hurried twice, and earned a couple of defensive pass interference calls. All six of his completions went to Edelman — proof-positive Edelman is the lone wide receiver Brady trusts in pressurized situations. Jakobi Meyers also dropped a pass, another season-long trend.
Patriots receivers are dropping passes at almost a 10% clip against the blitz, per PFF, more than double their rate when they face standard coverage. Overall, the Pats rank second in the league in dropped passes. Brady has accepted the fact the talent around him isn’t changing.
His focus is on raising their level of performance with the remaining time they have left together.
“I think the point is just we’ve got to maximize our potential, and I don’t know what our potential is. We’ve got to be the best we can be,” Brady said. “If we do it well one time, it’s how well can we do it consistently? I think part of it’s just consistently, we haven’t done a great job, and I think that when you’re not consistent, it just leads to other issues.
“Trying to be consistent and dependable is what a great offense is all about, and when you have really great playmaking ability, all those things make it very hard to defend.”
In the Patriots offense, communication is as vital as ability. Brady underthrew a pass to Phillip Dorsett last week against one blitz, where it appeared Dorsett traveled too far downfield. Their miscommunication goes back weeks.
Kansas City felt comfortable pressuring the Patriots because of their inability to defeat 1-on-1 coverage. For all the scheming players and coaches engage in, sometimes that’s what a key third or fourth down can boil down to. Backyard ball.
“If they blitz a guy, everyone’s one-on-one,” Brady said last month. “Sometimes blitz-zones and so forth — sometimes they blitz and they overload you, and you’ve got to throw the ball really quick. … My whole objective is to stand in there and try to get the ball to someone who can do something with it — try to get it to a receiver, or a back, tight end with some space, so they can make some yards with it in their hands.”
Of course, the other part of the pressure equation is protection. Only left guard Joe Thuney can claim he’s played well start to finish this season, particularly when pass blocking. The Chiefs pressured Brady on almost half his dropbacks and made recent regular-season history against the Pats.
To avoid another, more serious letdown in January, the Patriots must learn from the lessons of last Sunday. Or risk making more history, with no one to blame but themselves.
“I think every week we’re making a little progress,” Brady said. “Every week we’re trying to learn from our mistakes and just put all the right things together and hopefully just keep improving. Guys are working really hard and that’s been great to see and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing. Things just don’t kind of happen magically, so we’re working pretty hard at it.”
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