Tom Brady and the Patriots have played five prime-time games this season. But none has provided more insight into Brady’s ongoing frustration with the team’s offense than Sunday night’s 28-22 loss to the Texans.
NBC’s cameras caught Brady’s extended “pep talk” toward a group of receivers on the bench. The apparent gist: Do a better job of getting open. ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky also interpreted a discussion between Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to reveal that receiver Phillip Dorsett II had missed a double-move signal, leading to what otherwise looked like a bad overthrow in the second quarter.
That’s where we’ll start ESPN’s Week 13 QB Awards, our Tuesday assessment of quarterback highs and lows using unique data culled from ESPN Stats & Information and NFL Next Gen Stats.
A first glance at the numbers would suggest that Brady’s accuracy has slumped in his 20th NFL season. He ranks No. 29 in completion rate (61.1%), and ESPN Stats & Information’s video charters have credited him with an overthrow or underthrow on 21.1% of his passes, a higher rate than every NFL quarterback except Josh Allen and Jameis Winston.
Brady was off target on 24.4% of his passes against the Texans. But how many of those incompletions were truly the result of poorly thrown balls? And how many are caused by receivers running the wrong route or simply falling short of Brady’s exacting standards for positioning?
Orlovsky’s analysis pointed toward one such instance of the latter, but based on Brady’s sideline reaction, it likely wasn’t the only one. Overall, Brady threw into tight windows — defined by NFL Next Gen Stats as a target who had less than one yard of separation from the nearest defender — on 27.7% of his passes against the Texans. That was the second-highest rate for any quarterback in Week 13.
There’s no doubt that, like any quarterback, Brady merits some blame for the performance of the offense. His third-down completion rate of 53%, which includes an off-target rate of 30%, is the second lowest in the NFL. Third down is when elite quarterbacks pull their team beyond the sticks, and not all of those incompletions can be blamed on the players around him. But as is often the case in football, the answers aren’t as simple as they seem.
Unlike Brady, Allen doesn’t play often in prime time. So you can forgive much of the viewing public for its surprise that Allen played a really good game in the Bills’ 26-15 victory over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Most of the attention centered around a physical fourth-down rushing conversion, but in some ways it was also the best passing performance of his career.
Allen set career highs in completion rate (79.2%), yards per attempt (10.5) and passer rating (120.7), albeit against a Cowboys defense that has intercepted only four passes this season and rarely challenges opposing passers. Allen also rushed for a touchdown, in the process becoming the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to accumulate at least five passing and rushing touchdowns in one month.
Let’s be clear about who Allen is, and isn’t, at this stage. The numbers tell us he has rebounded from a horrible start to put himself above the replacement level. In Weeks 1 through 5 this season, Allen ranked No. 31 (of 34) quarterbacks in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric (minus-24.8). In Weeks 7 to 13, he has ranked No. 16 (of 36) with a plus-6.7 DVOA.
That doesn’t put Allen into any sort of discussion about elite NFL quarterbacks. It does, however, inform those who don’t see many of his games — and that’s most of you — that he has made substantial progress in his second season.
At the end of a long day in which he would take seven sacks, Allen had a chance to complete a remarkable fourth-quarter comeback. Instead, he left us all wondering about his eyesight.
The Panthers, trailing 29-21 with 27 seconds remaining, faced fourth-and-3 from the Redskins’ 3-yard line. The Panthers put three receivers on the right side of the line, then motioned a fourth — running back Christian McCaffrey — to that side. Suffice it to say, the majority of Allen’s possible targets were on that side.
Allen took the shotgun snap and initially looked at the one receiver, DJ Moore, who was split out in single coverage to the left. Moore was covered, so Allen turned to his right. At that moment, receiver Jarius Wright broke wide open toward the sideline. One quick flip likely would have produced a touchdown and a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion. At one point, NFL Next Gen Stats measured more than nine yards between Wright and the closest Redskins defender.
But Allen turned away toward the middle of the field and never looked his way again, and instead began a 23-yard retreat that ended in a sack and lost fumble.
Jarius Wright (13) had over 9 yards of separation at this moment on the Panthers’ final offensive play.
(Next Gen Stats) pic.twitter.com/uLkcQWfrdt
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 1, 2019
A week ago, I added my voice to the chorus that has suggested the Panthers use Allen as at least a short-term starter next season if they move on from Cam Newton. Just a few days later, I’m not so sure.
Yes, we’re talking about the same Nick Foles who was benched Sunday — and now for Week 14, and perhaps for the rest of the season — in favor of rookie Gardner Minshew II. But before all that happened, Foles floated a perfect 39-yard pass in the first quarter down the left sideline to receiver Dede Westbrook, who was 0.9 yards away from the sideline when he pulled in the ball. The play had a completion probability of 20.7%, the lowest for any completed pass thrown in Week 13.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) December 1, 2019
Foles, of course, threw an interception two plays later, and Minshew replaced him to start the second half of a 28-11 loss. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone announced Monday that Minshew will regain the starting job, putting Foles’ future in Jacksonville in jeopardy.
There’s no doubt Foles had had a rough go since returning from a broken collarbone. The Jaguars are 0-3 in his starts, and his 27.9 QBR ranks No. 27 in the league during that period. But Sunday’s dime is a reminder of what Foles can do when he has a clean pocket. He used 2.77 seconds to wait for Westbrook to spring open. But even then, the closest Buccaneers defender to Foles was 2.3 yards away, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Since he returned in Week 11, Foles has been forced to either throw or leave the pocket after 2.30 seconds, less time than all but one quarterback over that period. Minshew is better equipped to deal with poor protection, but if this is it for Foles in Jacksonville, I’m comfortable saying he never got a true chance.
Any analysis of Brissett’s seemingly brutal performance on Sunday must follow a similar path to that of his former teammate in New England. How much of it was Brissett? And how much of it was due to a severe personnel shortage at receiver?
ESPN Stats & Information credited Brissett with a career-high 10 overthrows in a 31-17 loss to the Titans. Both of his interceptions came on overthrows. And eight of them came in the second half, as the Colts were outscored 24-7.
It’s only fair, of course, to point out that Brissett was playing without pass-catchers T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Eric Ebron and Parris Campbell. And don’t forget that Brissett hasn’t had veteran receiver Devin Funchess since Week 1. Even the Colts’ top running back, Marlon Mack, was missing from the lineup.
The difference between Brissett and Brady, of course, is that Brissett hasn’t earned any benefit of the doubt. As he heads into the final month of his first season as a starter, Brissett ranks No. 22 (of 31 qualified players) in QBR at 48.2. That leaves the Colts facing a more difficult decision than they might have anticipated after the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck: Do they need to find a new starter for 2020 or can they give Brissett a clean-enough canvas to convince them he should return?