Tom Brady At 40 – Is He Playing The Best Football Of His Career?
10th Nov 2017 by TSZ
There is little doubt that Tom Brady is one of, if not the greatest quarterback ever to grace the National Football League. Love or loathe him, his record for the New England Patriots and most notably his five Superbowl rings, stand him among the best to have played the sport. The question we wanted to know at The Stats Zone however, is whether Brady, at the age of 40, is playing the best football of his career right now?
Our analysis focuses on regular season matches only.
ESPN recently published an article discussing Brady and whether he can eventually leave football on his own terms (http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/21227039/can-tom-brady-leave-football-terms-tb12-method), something that very few players have ever been able to do. An initial look at the games he has played since he replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season suggests that he is as durable as they come in the position.
Brady missed virtually the entire 2008 season after picking up a serious knee injury in the opening game that year, but otherwise, the only regular season matches he has missed since then were the games at the start of last season due to suspension and the infamous ‘deflategate’ saga.
A PASSING LEAGUE
There is little doubt that the emphasis on passing in the NFL has increased in recent seasons and that is reflected in Brady’s numbers. Since 2011, Brady has thrown over 600 times in four of those six seasons and he is currently on track to throw 618 times in 2017 if he replicates what he has done in the first half of this season.
If we take it a step further and look at the accuracy of his passing, then he currently stands at 66.7% for this season – the third highest percentage in a season in his career so far.
His average is above 60% for his career, but it is interesting to note that his completion percentage has improve each season since 2012 up until the end of last year’s regular season. That is impressive when we consider that he is throwing more attempts per season than he has previously done as noted above.
5,000 YARD MILESTONE
Given his incredible accuracy and the sheer number of times he is throwing the ball, one would expect Brady to have racked up some serious passing yards over his career. That culminated in the outstanding 2011 season when he threw for 5,235 yards which is the only time TB12 has broken the 5,000 yard barrier. Only four other quarterbacks have achieved the feat (Dan Marino, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford), but Drew Brees is the clear standout in this category having broken the tally in five separate seasons.
Brady is on track this season to break it once again as he is projected to throw for 5,082 yards this season. The evolution of his career has seen him become a more accomplished passer over long distances since 2007 as prior to that, he only hit the 4,000 yard mark once in his first five full seasons.
Taking the fact he has three incomplete seasons statistically which also included incomplete matches, we have broken down his yards per game average over the course of each season to analyse it further.
Remarkably, Brady is currently registering his second best ever yards per game average with 317.6 yards this season. Only four times has he ever achieved an average of 300 yards or more in his 16 seasons of playing eight games or more, and this is currently one of those seasons.
DECLINING ARM STRENGTH?
The answer to that question is a resounding no. That can be attributed to the fact that Brady has never possessed Matthew Stafford or Jay Cutler-like strength in his throws. However, the consistency in his yards per attempt over the years is incredible.
Brady is replicating his 8.2 yards per throw average that he achieved last season which is the third highest season average in his career. The 2011 and 2007 season led the way with 8.6 and 8.2 yards respectively but the very fact he is throwing 8.2 at this stage of his career shows how his body is standing up well to the rigours of playing at the age of 40. Once again, his yards per throw have increased over the last four completed seasons.
The 2007 season is unquestionably Brady’s greatest in many statistical measures, none more so than the stunning 50 touchdowns he threw. That was a record at the time with only Peyton Manning surpassing that in 2013 with his staggering 55 tally.
1 Peyton Manning 55 2013 DENVER
2 Tom Brady 50 2007 NEW ENGLAND
3 Peyton Manning 49 2004 INDIANAPOLIS
4 Dan Marino 48 1984 MIAMI
5 Drew Brees 46 2011 NEW ORLEANS
6 Aaron Rodgers 45 2011 GREEN BAY
7 Dan Marino 44 1986 MIAMI
8 Drew Brees 43 2012 NEW ORLEANS
9 Matthew Stafford 41 2011 DETROIT
9 Kurt Warner 41 1999 ST LOUIS
11 Andrew Luck 40 2014 INDIANAPOLIS
11 Aaron Rodgers 40 2016 GREEN BAY
He has typically thrown for over 30 touchdowns ever since that breakthrough season in 2007, and is projected to throw for 32 this season which would rank midway in his season averages.
If we include last season where he threw 28 touchdowns in just 12 matches played, Brady has thrown for over 30 touchdowns in six of his last seven seasons, and is on course to hit that mark once again in 2017.
Ball security is a fundamental part of football and there is a clear correlation between successful teams and those with a higher turnover differential. While Bill Belichick’s teams have not always been the best ball hawking defenses, their offense has certainly been heavily focused on not turning over the ball.
Arguably the biggest improvement in Brady’s play in recent seasons has been his decision making when throwing the ball, specifically in terms of not throwing interceptions. He only threw two in his 12 matches last season and has thrown for just two in his eight games this season. Those season totals have dropped notably since the early days when he threw for 12 or more in his first six seasons.
Since 2010, he has only thrown 12 in a season on one occasion (2011), and it is clear to see that this has been a key factor in his form in his late thirties. Brady’s decision making ability in a split second has shown no signs of declining, which demonstrates just how sharp he remains both psychologically as well as physically.
THE SACK RACE
One would expect that a quarterback who is playing at the age of 40 must have received excellent protection from his offensive line throughout his career and it is true to say that Brady has for long spells. Just how often have opposing defenses been able to get to Brady though?
While various metrics that we have already discussed have shown Brady improving in recent seasons, he has endured two of his three worst seasons in terms of being sacked. In 2013 he was sacked 40 times and in 2015 38 times. He has currently been sacked 21 times this season and that projects to be 42 times at the current pace which would mark the most ever in a season. That fact combined with the improvements made in his passing statistics makes them all the more remarkable.
Similarly, the fact that his body has held up to the sacks, hits and QB pressures, shows that Brady must be doing something right and is clearly one of the more durable players to have played the game.
QUARTERBACK PASSER RATING
Last but not least, we look at Brady’s quarterback passer rating historically and how his recent form measures up. You can find the explanation into the formula here (http://www.nfl.com/help/quarterbackratingformula), but in a nutshell, the calculation takes all the key measurables in match data into consideration.
2007 is once again Brady’s peak and the first time he broke the hundred mark. Last season saw his highest rating since that season with 112.2 registered. This season he currently sits at 106.5 which is significantly above his average, and if he can maintain it higher than 100 in the remaining matches of the regular season, will see him achieve a passer rating of over 100 for three consecutive seasons for the first time in his illustrious career.
There can be little doubt that Brady is playing as well as he ever has right now. He has certainly had seasons where he has thrown more yardage or more touchdowns, but combining all the key measurables, the level of consistency in his play both at present and for the last three to four seasons, he has been exceptional. 2017 could be yet another chapter in his magnificent Hall of Fame career.
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