Tom Brady’s Deep Ball Issues in Bruce Arians’ System

There are some concerns to be had about Tom Brady’s deep ball in Arians’ system. The Buccaneers are 7-5, are ranked 9th in passing yards per game and 15th in total offense through Week 12. On the flip side, Tom Brady has had flat out awful stretches through the season. He has had two separate four-week spans where he was 3/28 and then 0/19 on deep passes. These lulls are what cause the Buccaneers offensive inconsistencies from week-to-week.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Mark Lomoglio / Associated Press

Brady is having difficulty reading deep at times, having miscommunications with his receivers, and has also developed some mechanical issues when he tries to push the ball downfield. To understand why Brady is struggling, we also need to know what he does well. Tom Brady’s deep ball issues aren’t because of arm strength. He is still lethal in the intermediate game and shows great anticipation and touch.

The Good

When Brady can key off linebackers underneath, he’s still one of the best in the league. Here Tampa Bay is running two posts with what is supposed to be an underneath drag and a sit route. The linebacker is supposed to be put in conflict by the drag and the post. That drag doesn’t come because of some miscommunication, but the defender moves himself out of position anyways. Brady is throwing the post to Mike Evans and he’s starting his throwing motion before Evans has even turned his head. He’s locating that underneath defender, sees that his hips are turned to the outside, and that he’s flowing away from the window to the post. Brady throws a perfect strike right in the soft spot of the defense and protects his receiver from a big hit.

Brady isn’t suffering dwindling arm strength either. When Brady throws deep on rhythm, he has elite touch and accuracy. This is one of the Buccaneers favorite deep concepts with two deep crossers intersecting across the field. It puts single high safeties in conflict, makes defenders transfer zones, or forces the defense to run with some really talented receivers for the Bucs. It also fits Brady’s ability to throw rhythm deep balls while also allowing him to read underneath defenders.

As soon as Brady comes out of the play fake here, all he has to do is locate where the corner is and whether the Raiders defense is going to exchange zones or is matched up in man coverage. He sees that the Raiders are running with their receivers and he knows all he needs to do is put some air under the ball and let Scotty Miller run underneath it. He throws off one hitch, is decisive, and delivers a great ball.

These rhythm deep balls and anticipation throws in the middle of the field are where Brady still thrives. It shortens the throw and it mirrors the system that he ran in New England with McDaniels. It fits Brady’s skill set and arm talent and it allows some very talented Tampa Bay receivers to get the ball in space and attack linebackers in the middle of the field.

Problems Reading Safeties

We understand what he does well but let’s look at the main issues that keep popping up. Brady does not read deep defenders very well and has begun to stare down deep routes. So, if he isn’t throwing those deep routes on time, it allows defenders to read his eyes, flow to that side and impact the throws.

In his final drive against the Rams, Brady makes an almost rookie mistake. The Rams are showing a two high look but buzzing to Cover 1 Robber. The boundary side safety comes down to rob the middle of the field and the field side safety rotates up to the deep middle. Brady stares down his receiver to the top of the screen the entire way. He assumes since the safety to that side came down, he has room deep. But if that guy is coming down, there’s almost always going to be a guy coming to replace him. Brady doesn’t recognize the safety rotation and throws a ball like he’s expecting nobody to come help over the top of the route. This allows the other safety to get over and intercept the ball and seal the game for the Rams.

This issue of not locating safeties has been happening more and more frequently. He doesn’t locate safeties and doesn’t throw the appropriate ball because of it. He’ll put too much air on the ball which lets defenders make plays and makes things tough for his receivers. Here he has Mike Evans on Ramsey but the Rams are giving help over the top with #43. Brady throws up a deep ball but with the Safety already leaning to that side, that window is very small and there’s almost no way to squeeze this ball in for a completion and it really should have been intercepted.

Especially when facing pressure along with it, Brady has left some plays on the field. Against Kansas City, the Chiefs are bringing a zero blitz which leaves the two deep safeties in man coverage on the slot receiver and the tight end. Generally, in zero, you want to attack the middle of the field because there’s no safety help there. With the tight end Cameron Brate going to the flats, that removes the boundary safety because he has to come down on him in man coverage. This leaves the post to Godwin wide open. Instead of diagnosing the blitz and having a plan for it by attacking the post, he throws the ball out of bounds to Antonio Brown who is running a double move.

Mechanical Issues

Brady struggles with safety reads but he also has a mechanical issue. Heel click is a pretty simple mechanical issue and it can cause some big vertical accuracy issues. Heel click is when your feet come together on your hitch step. That action causes you to change vertical levels as a quarterback. As a consequence, that can make your throws go high or low. You want your hips to stay on the same horizontal plane. This heel click happens a lot when he is pushing the ball deep and it’s causing a lot of inaccuracy.

You can see on this clip how he has that heel click and how much his hips sink and raise on the throw. That vertical displacement ultimately causes the accuracy issue.

For quarterbacks it’s all about consistency and Brady just doesn’t have it here. If your platform and your base change from throw to throw it’s going to be hard to be consistently accurate.

Miscommunications

Finally, there are some miscommunications between he and his receivers. He’ll throw fades when receivers stop for back-shoulders and vice versa. You can see a great example of that here as the Bucs are running verts switch. The two receivers are exchanging and switching their routes. The slot goes out to the fade and the outside receiver comes inside for the seam.

Brady decides on the slot fade but he makes the incorrect decision to throw the ball deep. On fades like this, you’re reading leverage. If that defensive back is stacked on top, the quarterback and receiver are taught to work the back-shoulder. If they’re even, you throw the fade. Here clearly the corner is on top of Chris Godwin which means this should be a back-shoulder. That’s exactly what Godwin is reading here. It’s an example of not being on the same page and it happens often even this far into the season.

You can see that same exact concept here with Antonio Brown. Brown feels that the defensive back has leverage on him so he snaps the route off for a back-shoulder. Brady has meanwhile already begun his throwing motion for a fade.

Brady’s struggles reading deep safeties, his footwork issues, and the receiver miscommunications has led to Brady and that offense getting bogged down at times. Combine that with a rushing offense that ranks 28th and it can be hard to sustain offense.

The Bucs will be just fine though. Even with these issues, they’re scoring the 7th most points in the league. When your offense goes through the deep ball and the deep ball isn’t hitting, you’re going to see these inconsistent games and performances from Tampa Bay. To even out these performances and take the offense to the next step, there needs to be a blending of Arians’ scheme and Brady’s skill set. Use Brady’s elite intermediate throwing and use rhythm shots for the deep ball. Tampa is right on track for the playoffs and if that defense also evens out and gets more consistent in the secondary nobody will want to see playoff Brady roll into town with the weapons and tools that Tampa has.

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NFL Film Breakdown: A Look at Drew Lock, His Potential, and Some Concerning Trends

If you aren’t strapped in already, it’s time to buckle up for Drew Lock’s wild ride. The Broncos are 6-3 in games that Lock has played in their entirety as the starter but he has just as many games this year with multiple interceptions as he does games where he’s thrown a touchdown. It’s important to remember through this all, that Lock is still incredibly raw and has only played nine full games in his career but it’s worth looking at his upside and potential areas of concern because Lock has the talent to elevate the Broncos to wins but he also has some mechanical and decision-making issues that can lead to game-changing mistakes.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

DENVER, COLORADO – NOVEMBER 01: Quarterback Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos looks to throw for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of the game at Empower Field At Mile High on November 01, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Drew Lock does not like pressure. Against blitzes, Lock has just a 47.7% completion percentage and has thrown three of his five interceptions on the year. When teams don’t bring extra men, Lock has completed 62.6% of his throws and has thrown four touchdowns to two interceptions. This disparity can also be seen with his time spent in the pocket. On throws that happen within 2.5 seconds, his completion percentage goes up by 23%, his QB rating is 28 points higher, and he’s attempting throws further downfield. All this is to say that Lock is at his best as a rhythm thrower. He has an unreal arm that allows him to hit receivers in stride and if he’s throwing on time as receivers get out of their break, he’s almost impossible to stop and the film and numbers both back it up.

When Lock can key off of one defender, he plays much more decisively. The Broncos are running a drive concept here against the Patriots which creates a high-low read for Lock. You have a shallow drag from the #1 receiver, and a dig behind it from the #3. The Patriots play a lot of man coverage and you can see at the snap of the ball that Lock locates the blitz from the linebacker and then immediately goes to check if anyone is under the dig being run by his #3 receiver. With man coverage, there’s nobody to get into the passing lane, and Lock is able to hit the top of his drop, drive off his back foot and deliver the ball in stride to his tight end.

Lock is still young and can have some trouble diagnosing things so if you simplify his reads and let him play fast, he’s going to play much more efficiently. The Broncos will use some motions or release the running back to help him read off of linebackers and throw off their movements. The Broncos here run a man in motion and pull the running back across the formation in pass protection which let’s Lock read the flowing linebackers and attack the vacated space in the middle. Again, he gets to the top of his drop and is able to hit his receiver in stride.

The Broncos are starting to figure this out too. After a rough first quarter against the Chargers, the Broncos started to dial up some simple reads for Lock and while they didn’t manifest into points on those drives, Lock slowly become more decisive and accurate as his confidence built into the 3rd quarter. What’s most encouraging is that Lock is growing and learning on the job.

In the first half, Denver called another high low concept with a quick hook at 6 yards and a dig wrapping in behind it. The read on this is to watch the linebacker with inside leverage. If he stays up on the hook at six yards, the quarterback should throw behind him as the dig is wrapping around him. If he drops underneath the dig, you throw the quick hook. Here, Lock misses the dig and instead checks it down late to the running back. If he throws with anticipation and waits a beat, the dig is open. Instead, he gets bouncy in the pocket, his base starts to deteriorate, and he throws an inaccurate check-down.

Fast forward to the 4th quarter now and the Broncos call the same concept to the top of the screen. This time, Lock is dialed in and has learned from his first rep earlier in the game. The linebacker steps up to the hook and Lock hits his back foot on rhythm and fires the ball to hit his receiver in stride for the score to pull the game to 27-24.

When he isn’t on rhythm though, he has a huge issue with pocket movement. He will drift in the pocket and into pressure, bail from clean pockets and get into trouble, and his drop will often take him too deep which allows pass rushers to take easier angles to impact his throws. To top that all off, his mechanics when he moves tend to get sloppier and he has trouble getting consistent footwork and hip rotation. As we talked about before, when Lock throws after 2.5 seconds he is way less accurate and is more prone to mistakes.

On a four-man pressure here, Lock drops his eyes and misses four separate receivers that are breaking open because of a stunt to his blindside. Lock is initially looking at the deep curl to the bottom of the screen and wants to take a deep shot over the top to the post which is coming across the field with the curl holding the corner from getting underneath it. The play works perfectly and if Lock stands strong in the pocket it’s an easy big gain to the post and he can even throw the curl if he wants. But the movement on the line scares him out of the pocket and he immediately comes off those reads to check it down. To take the next step he’s just got to be able to stand in and make throws and not be so skittish in the pocket. He’s leaving tons of plays on the field because he’s feeling pressure that isn’t there.

What makes it worse is Lock will often create some of this pressure himself by dropping too far back. Unless you’re working a play-action bootleg, normal shot gun drop backs should be at about 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Lock’s skip drop he takes after his initial punch step will often take him to 10-11 yards behind the line of scrimmage though. This makes the offensive tackles lives incredibly difficult because they can’t wash edge rushers behind the pocket anymore since Lock is so deep. It also creates pressure in Lock’s face and gets him out of rhythm on his throws which causes inconsistent footwork. He just flat out cannot handle pressure. On this play he misses a touchdown down the sideline because his drop is so deep he feels pressure and tries to check it down. If he climbs or drops to 8 yards, he can hitch and deliver a strike down the sideline for a touchdown. Instead he’s falling away from his throw with pressure in his face which causes the ball to go high for an incompletion on a check-down.

Lock takes a little longer to process things than you’d like and that’s why you get some of his wild variability. When he takes longer to process, his feet get sloppy, he throws late, and gets himself and the team into trouble. He can lock onto receivers which pulls deep defenders that way and causes turnover worthy plays as he waits for things to open up instead of throwing with anticipation or getting to his next read.

Things are slowing down for Lock though. He’s starting to build comfortability with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, understand concepts and defender keys, and has made progress in the underneath game. To really unleash his potential though, he has to translate that to seeing the entire field and to being able to stand strong in the pocket. Even with those things, he still makes some amazing throws and the talent is clearly there. Drew Lock has the potential to carry a team on his back but he also makes a few decisions a game that put them in a disadvantageous position. One thing’s for sure though, he makes the Broncos exciting and as he gets more and more experience, the Lock rollercoaster may have a lot more ups than downs and if things start to really click, we’ll all be along for the ride.

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Taysom Hill – The Swiss Army Knife

While the Saints may have lost in heartbreaking fashion on Sunday to the 49ers, Sean Payton continues to get the most out of the Swiss army knife that is Taysom Hill. Similar to Lamar Jackson, we haven’t seen a player filling this kind of role in the NFL before. Taysom has 21 rushes for 140 yards, 14 receptions for 126 yards, 5 total touchdowns, and is 2/4 for 35 passing yards through week 14. That’s an average of 3 touches and 2.3 points a game. He averages 7.7 yards per touch and continually makes impactful plays. He adds a dynamic that teams have to spend time preparing for and while his package may be relatively small, he is usually excellent at executing it and making the right decision. You can call it a gadget or a gimmick, but if it works, why stop doing it? Let’s take a look at some of the things that the Saints ask of Taysom Hill and how he can be so effective with the touches he gets.

In looking at the last five games of Taysom Hill, some trends popped up. The Saints used him on the goal line or on 3rd and short eight separate times out of his 23 total touches. That’s 34.7% of the time. On those short yardage or goal line situations, Taysom ran the ball 83.3% of the time, was at QB 50% of the time, and when he was at QB in these situations, they ran QB sweep with motion or run action from Kamara 100% of the time. So if you see the Saints in 3rd and short, Taysom Hill is at QB, and Kamara motions – it’s going to be QB sweep. The Ravens do a very similar play with Lamar Jackson and it’s surprisingly effective for both teams despite its simplicity. Taysom is 3/4 on conversions when running the QB sweep in short yardage. The Saints window dress the sweep with motions but it’s always the same basic concept. There’s almost always a WR or TE tight to the line and they use them to pin the end while wrapping the playside tackle around this down-block to get up to the next level. This helps seal the outside on what would be a pretty challenging block for the tackle and gets one of your big guys up to a LB or DB.

You can see below it’s a basic outside zone scheme with a pin and pull from the WR and right tackle. This creates enough of a lane for Hill to get up and through to gain 3 yards on 3rd and 2.

The Saints basic QB sweep blocking scheme with Taysom Hill

To make the play more effective and look different, they’ll motion towards playside, away, and change up formations, but it’s all the same concept. Check out a couple of the times they ran it against Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and San Francisco. All the same pin and pull action and basic concept and all effective. When Taysom also has the ability to throw it – although he does so rarely — it makes the secondary less aggressive towards the ball.

The Saints also like to run the jet sweep with Taysom in short yardage situations. There are a couple reasons to like this. Usually – especially on the goal line – linebackers are going to be tighter to the line of scrimmage and less able to scrape over the top to prevent an outside run. If you can sustain your blocks on the outside, it can be a really effective short yardage play. You also increase the likelihood that you will see man coverage in goal line situations and you can sometimes get a man advantage with the motion and force the defense to communicate on a quick hitting play. If the defense doesn’t bump with motion, they’re then out of position to make a play on the ball.

You can see the differences in the gifs below in how the Falcons and 49ers defend the same play. Generally I prefer the jet push pass because it’s faster hitting and eliminates slowing down during the mesh for the handoff. The Saints have been using Kamara as a decoy a lot since he started to get banged up earlier in the year and continued that trend on their two point attempt early in the game against the 49ers. The jet sweep from under center allows for a harder run sell to Kamara, hopefully keeping the LBs and safety home until Hill has an angle to the endzone. Versus the Falcons they use their same pin and pull technique with the WR and tackle to help create a hole. Versus the 49ers, however, there’s no pin and pull, #71 Ramczyk whiffs and blocks nobody, and with a bump from the LBs on motion, the Saints are now the ones outnumbered on the play 3 to 2 on the playside.

First watch the sweep against the Falcons and notice the pin and pull from the WR and #71 Ramcyzk and the lack of flow from the defense on motion.

Compare this now to the 49ers who flow with motion while keeping their other two LBs home for Kamara and how #71, the right tackle, this time is rendered useless with a missed block and the TE #89 Hill is left to block two defenders.

The third most common play run with Taysom Hill is a crunch flat play action. Coincidentally, the 49ers run this a lot with their fullbacks and tight ends. You can check out the 49ers play-action game and use of full backs and tight ends in one of our first posts here. The Saints ran this same play against the Falcons and 49ers in back-to-back weeks and both went for 9+ yard gains. Taysom Hill lines up outside the offensive tackle away from the play and comes across the formation on the snap of the ball. Drew Brees fakes the handoff to Alvin Kamara and boots out to hit Taysom in the flat with absolutely nobody around him both times. It’s really effective and the Niners probably know that more than anybody. As good as the Niners were at knowing what was coming on the 2 point conversion attempt, they were totally lost on this play-action crunch flat to start the game. In fact, the Saints ran a lot of the same plays with Taysom Hill against the 49ers that they ran against the Falcons just the week prior. It’s surprising there weren’t any wrinkles, tendency breakers, or counters to these plays they’ve been running with Hill and setting up all year. I’m sure they’re in the playbook somewhere – maybe to be pulled out in a playoff game down the road.

Take a look at the effectiveness and similarities in both these crunch flat plays versus the Falcons and 49ers.

It’s clear the Saints don’t have a huge amount of faith in Taysom Hill as a passer. They limit his attempts and generally give him very simple reads and if the throw isn’t there, tell him to take off. Just in the last five games he’s had trouble identifying blitzes, making decisive reads, and making teams pay through the air. While Sean Payton talks very highly of Taysom Hill it’s clear that if they believed in him that much, he would’ve been taking the quarterback reps when Drew Brees was down instead of Teddy Bridgewater. Taysom’s run game ability is impressive – especially for a quarterback, but while he has a big arm, he’s not ready to make NFL reads and hasn’t evolved to be an every-down NFL ready passer.

Perhaps the package will grow but there are definitely bread and butter plays that the Saints run with Taysom Hill. While not terribly inventive, they are continually effective especially in short yardage. They’ve thrown in a couple zone reads, a reverse pass, as well as throwing him a number of quick flash screens on the outside. He’s being used on special teams and has lined up at QB, slot, H, running back, and out wide. Definitely a dynamic player and one you have to identify wherever he is on the field. He forces teams to do extra preparation and with the motions, run action, and threat of the pass, can make it hard for defenses to stay honest and defend against the threats he poses. The use of Kamara with him is particularly effective because of the eyes that both those players draw from the defense. It can create confusion and communication errors and open up big plays that Taysom Hill is athletic enough to exploit. The Swiss Army Knife might only have shown a couple of the tools available but you never know when a new gadget might pop out at just the right time in a big game.

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