Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Here’s why Tom Brady thinks ‘quarterbacking has gone backwards a little bit in the NFL’

During his illustrious, sure-to-be Hall-of-Fame career, Tom Brady became known not just for his strong arm or his pinpoint accuracy or his resolve under pressure or his ability to get the ball out quickly, but also for his total control of the entire offense. Brady could get to the line of scrimmage, immediately identify what defense the opponent was in, get his team into the right play, and then deliver the ball on time, on target, and to the right receiver, with remarkable consistency. 

And it’s in that last area where he thinks current quarterback play is slipping.

“I think the quarterbacking has gone backwards a little bit in the NFL,” Brady said, via Yahoo! Sports. “I don’t think it’s improved. I don’t think the teaching’s improved. I think maybe the physical fundamentals might be a little bit improved because there’s better information out there for quarterbacks to study on mechanics. But I don’t think quarterbacks really are really field generals right now like they used to be.

“It’s a broad statement, certainly. But I had total control. I had all the tools I needed. I was coached that way. I was developed to have the tools that I needed to go on the field so that whenever something came up, I had the right play, the right formation, the right audible, the right check at the line — to ultimately take control of the 11 guys on offense and get us into a good, positive play.”

As for why he thinks this is happening, Brady had a pretty specific answer: some coaches want the control for themselves.

“I think now, there’s this try-to-control element from the sideline between the coaches, where they want to have the control,” he said. “And they’re not teaching and developing the players the right tools so that they can go out on the field and make their own decisions that are best suited for the team. When I looked at Peyton Manning, he was a guy that I looked up to because he had ultimate control. And I think the game’s regressed in a little bit of that way, based on what’s happened in high school football, college football and then the NFL’s getting a much lesser developed quarterback at this point.”

Clearly, there are still plenty of quarterbacks who have a great deal of control over their offenses. 

Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott, in particular, are renowned for their pre-snap orchestration, with Rodgers often seemingly calling his own plays at the line and Prescott routinely checking the Cowboys into and out of different looks in response to what the defense shows him. (The tension between how Rodgers likes to play and how Matt LaFleur wanted to call plays was a consistent through-line during their Green Bay partnership.) Matthew Stafford falls in that category as well. There are also players — like Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, and more — who have a great deal of control over their offenses in terms of playing style and the use of different formations and concepts, as well as line-of-scrimmage checks. And there are still more — Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, etc. — whose offenses are constructed almost entirely around their specific skill sets, so that what they do well can be amplified and what they do not can be minimized.

And most other quarterbacks do still have at least some degree of autonomy to audible into the right play at the line. Maybe not to the extent that Brady or Manning did, but some. Still, there are systems where the coach does want the quarterback to simply run the play that is called. Many of the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay tree play-callers prefer that route, for example, even if some (i.e. LaFleur: see above) are more flexible about it than others.

Will the league ever get back around to playing like Brady and Manning did, all the time? Maybe. Probably not. But it also might not need to. Offenses and play-calling have evolved to the point where many plays now have multiple options built into them from the jump, and/or enable the quarterback to use what the defense does post-snap, against it and make the correct decision from there. And frankly, a lot of quarterbacks now have the type of athletic gifts that Brady never did, and so don’t have as strong a need to win in every part of the pre-snap phase of play as he did. He mastered that, at least in part, because it was the best way he could succeed. Other quarterbacks’ easiest paths to success might just look different.

Obviously, there is still a need for any quarterback, no matter his style of play, to audible out of plays that look dead on arrival based on offensive and defensive alignments or personnel. And there are still a whole bunch of players capable of doing a lot more than that, whether Brady thinks so or not.

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