Clearing the air about the Tom Brady-Bruce Arians relationship

NFL analysts say there is a rift between the Bucs coach and quarterback. But the problem is the game plan.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, left, talks with quarterback Tom Brady (12) during a game against the Carolina Panthers in September at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, left, talks with quarterback Tom Brady (12) during a game against the Carolina Panthers in September at Raymond James Stadium. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Dec. 6, 2020|Updated Dec. 7, 2020

TAMPA — Let’s clear the air about Tom Brady and Bruce Arians.

There is no trouble in the newly discovered paradise for the Bucs quarterback and his 69-year-old head coach.

After losing by a field goal in consecutive weeks to the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, Twitter as all atwitter with claims of a perceived “rift” between Brady and Arians.

Many of the NFL analysts — guys like Tony Romo, Dan Orlovsky, Brandon Marshall and former Brady teammate Rob Ninkovich — sounded the alarm that the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has been betrayed by Arians’ chuck-and-duck offense.

There’s no question both Brady and Arians are frustrated at the lack of execution on offense, particularly to start games when scripted plays should be run with the most precision.

The Bucs had four three-and-outs to start the Saints game in Week 9 and produced only one first down in their first four possessions against the Chiefs.

Hanging the defense out to dry like that against a good offense is a recipe for disaster.

But to suggest some squabbling over play selection or game plans may lead to a divorce between Brady and Arians at this point is a little far-fetched.

It’s important to remember the Bucs are averaging 28.7 points per game, which would make it the highest-scoring team in club history. It would top last year’s high-water mark of 28.1 points per game. Scoring is up all over the NFL this season, so the Bucs rank seventh.

Now, having said all that, there are some things the Bucs needed to examine closely during the bye week and fix if Brady is going to survive — much less thrive — in Arians’ offense.

Brady will never personally enumerate those grievances for public consumption. When asked by Jim Gray on Westwood One about any possible rift between himself end Arians, Brady sought to calm the waters.

“I’ve got a great relationship with B.A., and we talk every day,” Brady said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him and how he runs the team and so forth.

“Any time you lose games, a lot of people want to place blame, especially in the media, and they want to pit one player against another player, or a player against a coach and so forth. That’s not been my style.”

Now, let’s also not be naive. Brady has plenty of friends in the national media capable of putting out his laundry list of complaints about the Bucs offense, as Romo spent three hours doing during the Bucs-Chiefs telecast after talking to the Bucs quarterback.

We will address several of the items in Brady’s wish list for the Bucs offense. But first, let’s get to the root of the problem.

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich could use some help.

Leftwich may become a head coach in the NFL sooner than later. The former Jaguars and Steelers quarterback is that highly regarded.

Brady respects the fact that Leftwich has been a man in the arena, as he’s fond of saying.

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But Leftwich is only in his second full season calling plays and may be a little over his skis.

Leftwich runs the offense. He does the game-planning, runs the offensive meetings, calls all the plays, with surprisingly little input from Arians and his coaching staff.

A stipulation by Arians to return to coaching was that he would not call plays. The Glazer family that owns the team was surprised if not disappointed by that decision but agreed to it, nonetheless.

Brady did his homework and was excited to operate in Arians’ offense where he can make more plays in the passing game. Nobody loves throwing the football more than Brady.

Brady can play in any offense. His arm is stronger than some give him credit for. He has won bombing away for 50 touchdown passes, nearly half (23) of them to Randy Moss, during the Patriots’ 16-0 season in 2007.

He has won with strong running games and weak ones. He has won checking the ball down to running backs and throwing seam routes to tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

ESPN’s Mike Greenberg did a pretty good job of breaking down the Bucs offense and how the play-calling doesn’t seem to mesh with Brady.

He has thrown more deep passes than any quarterback in the league. But this season, whether it’s a lack of protection or continuity, Brady is ranked 26th on those throws.

The Bucs only added to that lack of continuity with the signing of Antonio Brown, who for all his promise as a deep threat, after four games is averaging only 8.4 yards per catch.

Brady also has thrived in play-action. He’s second in yards per pass after run fakes, but only two teams in the NFL have attempted less play-action.

In his final three seasons with the Patriots, Brady was second in the league in play-action pass attempts. The Patriots went 36-12 and appeared in two Super Bowls.

This year, the Bucs rank 15th in play-action pass attempts even though Brady’s passer rating is 24 points higher when they do it. Brady went 4-of-5 passing on play-action vs. the Chiefs.

“We’ve done it in the past — we did it for years,” Arians said. “Peyton Manning never wanted anybody in motion, so each quarterback is so different (with) what they want the motion for.”

What the Bucs lack is an identity on offense after 12 weeks. They’re not good enough to morph into anything they need to be based on the opponent.

The Bucs have to run the football more, whether they fall behind or not. Entering Sunday’s games, running back Ronald Jones was ranked fourth in the NFL with 820 rushing yards. But the Bucs still are ranked 21st in rushing.

If Tampa Bay reaches the playoffs, it will be as a wild card, where it likely will have to visit Green Bay or Seattle in January, where conditions may not favor throwing the football.

The Bucs throw the football on 66 percent of their plays, which is the most in Brady’s career. But Brady is on pace to throw at least 37 touchdown passes, which would break the team record of 33 set by Jameis Winston last season.

Brady is going to fight to get this right until he runs out of time. But the Bucs, and especially Leftwich, need to do a better job of collaborating with their quarterback.