What's wrong with Tom Brady? Let's start with his receivers.

Well, we’ve reached the point in the NFL season when people start doubting whether New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady still has it. You can set your clocks to this annual tradition.

The defending champion Patriots currently sit at 10-2, tied for the best record in the AFC, but their offense has looked super mid-grade. This was evident in their 28-22 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday night, as NBC’s cameras seemed to catch Brady prodding rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers to do everything “faster” and to be “more explosive.”

Brady has a point, which leads this week’s “Things I Noticed.”

He needs more from the third receiver in the Patriots’ offense. Slot receiver Julian Edelman is a stud, and Mohamed Sanu will indeed show up in the playoffs. Running back James White is a solid receiving option as well. But the Patriots are missing a steady, big-play deep-ball threat, and their current lack of downfield explosiveness explains why they took a big swing on Antonio Brown earlier this season. They struck out and are still missing that type of playmaker.

(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

As I show in the finely stitched video above by my man Ron Schiltz, that absence is allowing defenses to get to Brady more than usual. He’s posting an abysmal 49.3 passer rating under pressure (tied for 46th in football), according to Pro Football Focus.

For comparison’s sake, Brady’s rating under pressure a year ago was 71.2, which ranked 25th. He had Rob Gronkowski then, and the offensive line was less leaky.

One of the first things to go for older quarterbacks is the ability to throw under pressure, so for those rooting for the 42-year-old’s decline, keep an eye on how he fares when defenders are in his vicinity the rest of the season. I’d expect teams to do whatever they can to make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket the rest of the way, starting with their showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in a rematch of last season’s AFC championship game.

Dec 1, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after being sacked by the Houston Texans in the second half at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Brady had a rough outing on Sunday against the Texans. His next opponent, the Chiefs, will be in Foxborough. (Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

Drew Lock has solid debut and Broncos fans can get excited again

Denver’s quarterback play has largely been a wasteland this season, as the Broncos have squandered a promising running game by pairing it with the AFC’s most toothless passing attack.

But I gotta tell ya, in the Broncos’ 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, rookie second-round quarterback Drew Lock made some eye-opening throws that should wake Broncos fans out of their comas over the rest of the season:

In the clip above, Lock:

  • Winged a pass sidearm, with heat

  • Showed elusiveness in the pocket

  • Threw a touch TD pass to Courtland Sutton (a great catch, but still)

  • Showed off his very strong arm

If you want to be cynical, you can point out that Lock cooled off after the first half, despite the Chargers’ inability to generate a consistent pass rush, and also threw a bad interception over the middle. And you wouldn’t be wrong.

But Lock already looks much better than he did in the preseason, and if his connection with Sutton — who caught two touchdown passes Sunday — is real, then this situation is worth monitoring. The Broncos face the Houston Texans next, who rank 26th in the NFL in sacks with 25. He should have time to make some throws.

I’m here for the James Washington Experience

Don’t look now, but Pittsburgh Steelers second-year receiver James Washington is starting to come on in a huge way.

Over the Steelers’ past four games, Washington has caught 16 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns, and he’s averaging a healthy six targets per game. Several of his catches in a 20-13 win over the Browns on Sunday were of the sensational variety:

After a miserable rookie year in which he struggled to establish a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger (he caught 16 balls for 217 yards and a touchdown on 38 targets), this is a welcome change for Steelers fans, who were growing antsy about the receiving crew that look devoid of downfield speed during Pittsburgh’s 1-4 start. But the Steelers have bounced back to 7-5, and the improved play at receiver is a big reason.

Juan Thornhill is a playmaker

Shortly after the Kansas City Chiefs selected safety Juan Thornhill in the second round of this year’s draft, I started hearing rave reviews about his athleticism, ball skills and feel for the game.

And now, 13 games into a rookie season in which he has played 95 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps, Thornhill is making eye-opening plays like this:

That’s a big-time stick in the run game, and a pick-six in which he diagnosed the route combination and drove on the ball before it even left the hand of Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. These are the type of plays that an eraser-type safety can make, someone teams can play as a post safety and allow them to run, hit and wipe out deep routes which, in turn, allows teams to drop an extra safety in the box vs. the run.

Thornhill may not be there fully yet, but he’s showing signs of positive development, and if he becomes what the Chiefs think he will be, he’ll be a Pro Bowler before long.

Call of the week

One of my favorite things in football is when ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore busts out the “OHHHHHH” after something remarkable happens.

Sometimes it’s when disaster strikes — like when Philip Rivers threw a game-ending interception against the Chiefs a few weeks ago — but more often, he breaks it out when something glorious happens.

And to that end, I present Tessitore’s fantastic call of Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph’s one-handed touchdown in a 37-30 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday.

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