Bruce Arians was the best head coach in the NFL when he turned the Arizona Cardinals into a regular contender. He made innovative use of weapons like Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson and gave a new lease of life to a veteran quarterback, Carson Palmer.
It’s ironic then that Arians is making Tom Brady look distinctly average for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady struggled throughout Monday night’s 27-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. He threw a pair of interceptions and failed to connect on another 20 of his 48 pass attempts.
Brady joined the Bucs in the offseason, but it looks increasingly like an ill-fated union. Arians is wasting the quarterback many consider ‘The Goat’ in a vertical passing game not suited to his strengths.
Brady’s never had a rocket for an arm, nor the mobility to elude pressure within a collapsing pocket. The Rams knew how to beat Brady because the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears had already shown them how.
It’s a simple formula. Get pressure with a four-man rush and play top-down coverage in a crowded secondary.
The Saints used those things to destroy the Bucs’ offense in Week 9:
The Saints 4-man pass rush terrorized Tom Brady, with 3 sacks and 13 pressures on 26 dropbacks (50.0% pressure rate).
➤ 7 pressures on 29 pass rushes (24.1%)
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 9, 2020
Rams defensive coordinator Brendan Staley took notice. He leaned on the same mix of frontline pressure and two-deep coverage concepts.
Pressure came from a relentless group led by the awesome Aaron Donald. He’s still The Man in the trenches for L.A., but Donald is no longer a solo act. Not when Leonard Floyd, Samson Ebukam, and Morgan Fox are playing so well.
Ebukam got the Rams’ lone sack after taking an inside move to get to a static quarterback who is an easy target in the pocket:
Samson Ebukam got him 🔥 @RamsNFL
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 24, 2020
Brady hasn’t got the moves to avoid pressure up the gut, but he’s hardly being helped by Arians’ playbook. The coach is calling long-developing pass plays where Brady has to wait for receivers to stretch coverage vertically.
It’s a recipe for disaster behind an offensive line weakened by an injury to standout guard Ali Marpet. Losing Marpet forced center Ryan Jensen to kick out to left guard, while veteran A.Q. Shipley took over as the pivot.
The Rams exploited the soft middle of Brady’s O-line all night. Fox had a strip-sack wrongly negated by another installment of the ‘Tuck Rule’.
That old chestnut. There was a time when a fumble passed the eye test without any problem.
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) November 24, 2020
A relentless rush isn’t enough to stifle Brady. Pressure has to be combined with disciplined coverage.
The Rams had both thanks to a split-safety look designed to take away the deep ball. Split safeties mean two safeties lined up side by side, an equal distance apart.
A split-safety defense can play traditional Cover 2, inverted Cover 2 (safeties play underneath, cornerbacks backpedal to cover the deep routes), or quarters.
The Rams’ safeties mostly stayed in the deep halves to take away the Bucs’ vertical routes. Brady loves to throw between the numbers, but he found his receivers bracketed by hi-lo defenders in the middle of the field.
Brady’s accuracy was again found wanting when he tried to go deep.
Tom Brady on throws 15+ yards downfield:
▪️ 18 yards
▪️ 2 INT pic.twitter.com/G3YkOE2T9W
— PFF (@PFF) November 24, 2020
The Rams were also able to disguise coverage and confuse Brady. A clever post-snap shift led to Brady’s second interception.
Fuller was again aligned in a Cover-2 bracket, but he backpedalled to become the deep safety in a single-high scheme. Fellow safety John Johnson rotated downhill to become the robber.
Brady didn’t read the adjustment and overshot his throw to Cameron Brate.
Late movement & disguise from the Rams secondary. Roll from split-safety to Cover 1 Robber/Lurk. https://t.co/lhyqcROw5w
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) November 24, 2020
Brady doesn’t have the strength or touch to be a great deep thrower. He’s had his moments, notably when Randy Moss was in town. Although those of you who enjoy a good conspiracy theory may wonder how much deflated footballs contributed to the success of that prolific QB-WR combo.
Recognition skills and accuracy on quick-hitting plays underneath are the keys to Brady’s greatness. He sentences defenses to death by a thousand cuts, just like his hero, Joe Montana.
Arians has Brady playing a distinctly un-Montana-like game, and it’s not working. Brady has already thrown nine interceptions through 11 games. He tossed just eight picks all of last season.
Tampa Bay may not have the right personnel to help Brady win a Super Bowl with somebody other than the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. There’s no natural pass-catcher in the backfield. Leonard Fournette put three passes on the ground against the Rams.
The art of good coaching is accentuating the strengths of your best players while mitigating their weaknesses. Arians is doing the opposite with Brady and something has got to give.