Hannable: How Patriots can do better job of protecting Tom Brady

Ryan Hannable
October 10, 2017 - 11:12 pm

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

Watching the first five games of the season it's clear Tom Brady is being hit way more than he should be.

Over the first five games he has been sacked 16 times, which comes after being sacked 15 times all of last season (12 games). Against Tampa Bay last Thursday night there were several plays where the 40-year-old showed obvious signs of discomfort and was slow to get up after being hit.

Well, after he missed practice on Tuesday it was learned something is up.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Brady has a sprained AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder, but he isn't expected to miss time. NBC Sports Boston adds Brady had a MRI, but it came back negative and the quarterback should be ready to practice this week.

With it only being Week 6, something needs to change or else Brady isn’t going to be able to make it through the entire season.

One of the biggest reasons for Brady taking so many hits is the offense has changed without Julian Edelman, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. No longer is it based around short, quick passes where the focus is getting the ball out fast, it’s taking more shots down the field with the speedy Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett now on board at receiver. 

In turn, self-admittedly, Brady is taking much longer to get the ball out than in the past.

According to Pro Football Focus, Brady is averaging 2.56 seconds from snap-to-throw this season, which is tied for the ninth slowest out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks. It is also his highest average since the data started being calculated in 2011. Aside from last season when Brady had the 12th quickest release time, he hasn’t ever been lower than seventh. His quickest came in 2015 when he averaged 2.26 seconds from snap-to-throw, good for second fastest among 37 qualifying quarterbacks.

So, without Edelman how can Brady get the ball out quicker?

One option could be utilizing Danny Amendola more on shorter, quicker passes like Edelman was known for, but that would put him more at risk for injury. Besides, he’s having a pretty damn good season doing what he’s doing. The same goes for Chris Hogan.

Perhaps the offense could call more screens to running backs, as well as wide receivers. We’ve seen Cooks have some success on a few screens this year since opposing cornerbacks play off him respecting his speed. Rob Gronkowski could also figure into the mix with short, quick hits over the middle, but again it increases his injury chances.

Adjusting the offense may not be in the cards, so it comes down to just protecting Brady better. And the team knows it.

“We definitely have to protect him better,” running back James White told reporters on Tuesday. “We haven’t been doing a great job. Everybody as a whole, we got to do a better job with protection, [have] everybody be on the same page and just [block] as long as possible to keep that guy off the ground.”

Nate Solder hasn’t been at his best at left tackle. For Marcus Cannon, he hasn’t been as good as a year ago and then Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason have been exposed in the interior. These five players need to improve, but also the tight ends and running backs need to do what they can as well in pass protection.

Another solution to improving the offensive line play and thus better protection of Brady is establishing the run more. This will prevent defenses from just attacking Brady and not worrying at all about the running game. Through five games this season, the Patriots are averaging 99 yards per game on the ground, good for 18th in the NFL. 

Mike Gillislee has been a broken tackle away from breaking several runs for 30 or more yards and Dion Lewis finally was let free last Thursday against the Bucs. It also comes down to making more of a commitment to it. Last year, the Patriots ran the ball on 47 percent of their plays. This year, the Patriots are running the ball on just 40 percent of their plays. Showing more of a commitment to the running game could help protect Brady.

It’s clear there are several ways to help protect Brady and the Patriots need to find a way soon because the way things are going the 40-year-old won’t be able to make it to January.