TAMPA — By all rights, he should have been drilled at least two times. Probably three.
He should have been chased out of the pocket, knocked down after multiple throws and reminded that football is a young man’s game. Instead, Tom Brady walked away from the season-opening victory against Dallas with 379 passing yards and without so much as a smudge on his jersey.
Fifty times the Bucs called for a pass play, and 50 times Brady got the throw off. Every other quarterback that threw 50 or more passes last week got sacked at least once. Heck, every quarterback that threw 25 or more passes got sacked.
Do you know how many times Brady threw for 375 or more yards without getting sacked while he was in New England? Twice in 283 regular season starts, and the last time was 10 years ago.
The point is that what the Bucs pulled off in the season opener was equal parts rare and fascinating. It’s hard enough keeping a quarterback upright with that many pass attempts, but it’s downright freakish to pull it off with an aggressive, downfield passing attack.
So how impressed was Bucs coach Bruce Arians by this feat?
“We didn’t give up a sack, but we had a couple of hurries and the quarterback had to get off the spot a couple of times when we had guys open,” Arians said. “It’s still a work in progress.”
I suppose the guy in charge of protecting the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian has the same impervious outlook. With something as precious as a seven-time Super Bowl winner at quarterback, you darn well better keep the pocket safe.
And there’s no doubt that Tampa Bay’s offensive line did a fine job against the Cowboys. Pro Football Focus graded the Bucs pass blocking as the best in the NFL in Week 1, and there really wasn’t any other team that was close.
But if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire organization to protect Brady. That means tight ends have to block, that means the play calling needs to be prescient and that means Brady himself has to be willing to take whatever is available on any given play.
Here’s what I mean:
Brady got rid of the ball, on average, in 2.50 seconds in the opener. That was the fourth-quickest of any quarterback in the league, and that’s no fluke. Brady got rid of the ball last season in 2.57 seconds, which was fifth-best among quarterbacks with at least 300 passes.
But that’s only half the story. Brady also led the NFL in average yards per target last season at 9.3. That means he was throwing deeper downfield than any other quarterback, while also getting rid of the ball faster than most quarterbacks. That’s a remarkable combination.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, for instance, gets rid of the ball ridiculously fast and avoids sacks as well as any quarterback. But Roethlisberger also averaged only 7.1 yards per pass attempt last season, meaning Brady was consistently throwing 20 percent farther downfield while still delivering the ball in a rapid fashion.
Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith was pleased to pitch a shutout against the Dallas pass rush, but he acknowledged the job is bigger than the five guys on the offensive line.
“Obviously that’s the standard — no sacks given up each week. What better way to start Week 1 than doing that,” Smith said. “It definitely feels good, but hats off to all five guys and the receivers, quarterback, running backs because it falls on all of us.
“But we take the brunt of it.”
Going forward, the Bucs will need to make some adjustments to keep Brady from taking a beating. While the pass blocking was stellar, the Bucs also had the fewest running plays (14) in the NFL last week. That ratio cannot work long-term.
There’s nothing wrong with having a pass-first mentality, but the running game keeps defenses from dialing up a more aggressive pass rush. For instance, the Bucs were 5-of-6 for 54 yards on play-action passes (and the only attempt that wasn’t completed was when the ball bounced out of Leonard Fournette’s hands and was intercepted by the Cowboys).
But the play-action only works when a defense is legitimately worried about a running play. Two of Tampa Bay’s touchdowns came on play-action passes when linebackers took a step forward with the fake handoff and opened the middle of the field for completions to Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski.
Chances are, the Bucs will give up a sack against the Falcons on Sunday. NFL teams, on average, see their quarterback get sacked every 19 or so pass attempts.
On the other hand, there is nothing average about Tampa Bay’s quarterback situation.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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