In the 2021 regular season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the NFL’s best offense by Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted metrics. They ranked first in Offensive DVOA, first in Passing DVOA, and fifth in Rushing DVOA. They ranked fourth in postseason Offensive DVOA, but that was seen as more of a slightly negative blip after an overall season in which Tom Brady completed 67.2% of his passes for 7.3 yards per attempt, 5,916 yards, 46 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 100.7 passer rating.
Brady ranked second in DVOA (FO’s play-to-play efficiency metric), and first in DYAR (FO’s cumulative efficiency metric), so when he retired this past offseason and then decided to return, we all expected that, even through there may have been personal issues tied to that decision we couldn’t accurately factor in, we were about to see another season in which Brady was at or near the top of his game, and the Buccaneers’ offense would cook again.
To say the least, that has not happened through the near-halfway point of the 2022 season. The Bucs dropped to 19th in Offensive DVOA through the season’s first seven games — 10th in Passing DVOA, and 31st in Rushing DVOA. Brady ranked eighth in DVOA and fifth in DYAR, which isn’t bad, but these are Brady’s worst standings in either category since 2019 — his last season with the New England Patriots, when Bill Belichick didn’t have a single receiver who could credibly separate, and Brady finished 17th in DVOA and 16th in DYAR.
As the Patriots prepared to face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9 of that season, Brady spoke with NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcasting crew, and Cris Collinsworth unleashed this bombshell.
“He gave us a line that was the most unbelievable line that we never put on television,” Collinsworth said. “I can’t believe we didn’t put it on. His opening line was, ‘I have to be the most miserable 8-0 quarterback in the history of the league.’ And somehow, we didn’t get that on. I have no idea why we didn’t.”
Well, it was showing up on the field then, and it’s showing up now. Brady was once again preparing for the Ravens in Week 8 of the 2022 season, and it didn’t go well. In a 27-22 loss that put the Bucs down to 3-5 on the season, Brady completed 26 of 44 passes for 325 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 89.7. Had the Ravens not been playing with their food in this first half, trying to see what they could make of Tampa Bay’s pass defense, this game would have been much more of a blowout than it was. The Bucs were up 10-3 at the end of the first half, then the Ravens went with their preferred run-based paradigms, and that was that. The Bucs had to answer on either side of the ball.
Brady was now the most miserable 3-5 quarterback in the history of the league, which puts him in a far larger population.
“You know, I think we struggled in pretty much at everything,” Brady said after the game. “We just struggled in the red area, struggled on third down, struggled in the run game, two-point plays, short yardage, when backed up, at the start of the first quarter, start of the third quarter – not very good offensive football.”
As of Sunday morning, Tampa Bay has had the most third-down attempts in the NFL with 107. They’ve converted just 37 of them, giving them a conversion rate of 34.6%, one of the NFL’s worst. This after converting 47.1% of their third downs in 2021. They’re averaging 18.3 points per game after the Ravens game, which is one of the NFL’s worst averages. This after averaging 30.1 points per game in 2021.
We can go on and on with the declining numbers, but let’s veer into why this is all happening. The automatic answer is that Brady, at age 45 and with whatever family-related issues he may have right now, is the primary problem. But the stats don’t jibe with that idea. Nor does the tape. When looking at why the Buccaneers’ passing game has fallen off a cliff, Brady isn’t even in the view when it comes to the primary reasons why.
Brady can still make amazing tight-window throws, but...
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
…the problem is, every throw in this offense is a tight-window throw. More and more, defenses are pressing Brady’s receivers and getting away with it, because Brady’s receivers are not separating from coverage. Per Next Gen Stats. Mike Evans had averaged 5.9 yards of cushion (how close a defender is to him at the snap) per target, but he’s averaged just 2.7 yards of separation per route. Evans has been dealing with injuries this season, and it unfortunately shows. Chris Godwin has averaged 6.7 yards of cushion per target, and 2.8 yards of separation. Brady’s primary receivers aren’t getting open, even when the defense presents more favorable opportunities with coverage. The more that happens, the more defenses are going to press them.
Still, against the Ravens, Brady was making big-time throws into contested areas with impressive accuracy. This 28-yard pass to Evans with 1:31 left in the first half is about as good as you could expect from any quarterback.
The route combinations don't generally help.
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)
Another issue with Tampa Bay’s current passing game is that you don’t see a lot of favorable route concepts. Not a lot of picks out of stack or twins or bunch routes, which have been staples of every Brady-led passing game I can remember. You’d like to see something more imaginative on this motion-to-bunch play with 40 seconds left in the first quarter. But the Ravens are rushing four and dropping seven, and there’s nothing to attack that. The Bucs under offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich seem to prefer individual isolation routes that put the onus on the receivers to win physical battles, as opposed to scheming your guys open.
Communication breakdown... it's always the same...
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Brady is the best pre-snap quarterback in the history of pro football — which he has to be, because there’s not a lot of second-reaction ability there. Brady sees things exponentially before the snap, and he needs his receivers to be precise and on point with their routes as a result. There is very little randomness in the ideal Tom Brady passing game, so when you see stuff like this, it’s a problem. With 13:30 left in the Ravens game, tight end Kyle Rudolph ran a crosser in the red zone to the end zone. Brady had to double-clutch to wait for Rudolph to come open, and he never really did.
Pressure is a problem, but the run game is a bigger loss.
(Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)
Because the Buccaneers’ run game has been historically inefficient, Brady has faced more light boxes, and more defenders streaming into coverage, then any other quarterback this season. Per Sports Info Solutions, Brady has a league-high 294 dropbacks against four or fewer pass-rushers. He’s completed 189 of 281 passes for 1,887 yards, and 978 air yards. All of those numbers lead the league, and while Brady’s been reasonably efficient in those circumstances with seven touchdowns and just one interception, his passer rating of 92.9 ranks 13th in the NFL, and his average throw depth of 7.0 yards is nowhere near the top of the league.
Brady and the Bucs are in a position where everything has been tapped out. The question is, how do they fix it?
“I mean, we’ve got to go earn it,” Brady said after the Ravens game. “I don’t think you can erase what happened the last eight weeks. We’ve got to dig deep, see what we’re all about, come to work, try to improve, and give ourselves a better chance to win.”
Easier said than done at this point, though they do have the post-Thursday Night Football mini-bye to figure things out. If they don’t, Tom Brady may \be most miserable soon-to-be-retired quarterback in the history of the league.