The Buccaneers Offensive Conundrum Starts and Ends With Tom Brady

Tom Brady might be part of the reason why their offense sputters. But he's also what makes their offense so dangerous in a playoff environment.

It would disrespectful to say that Tom Brady looks like a 45-year-old quarterback. The game’s greatest has spent a lot of money to look younger and more attractive now than the man who entered the league as a sixth-round pick 22 years ago. However, we’ve also never seen a QB his age compete at his level, so from a more serious perspective, he’s still in a class of his own.

But it was clear last night, and it’s been clear this season, that he’s just not quite the same player as he was even just a season ago. Whether his age-defying game is falling off physically or factors outside of football have affected his play, only he knows. The arm still looks live.

But while he’s never had to be a mobile QB, it’s never hurt him the way it is in 2022.

Tom Brady Is Following Trend in 2022

Aaron Rodgers went from back-to-back MVPs to an offense that has looked untenable for a large chunk of the season. Justin Herbert and the Chargers’ offense went from a top-10 unit a season ago to a shell of its former self. The Buccaneers rank 25th in points per drive, 21st in the red zone, and haven’t converted a third-and-11 or more this season in 30 attempts.

If 2022 has shown us anything, it’s that no matter how talented a quarterback is on their own, they need help. Conversely, Tua Tagovailoa went from replaceable to an MVP candidate with the additions made to Miami in the offseason. And just look at Jalen Hurts’s development as a passer this season, with help from A.J. Brown and an elite offensive line.

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It’s impossible to completely separate the quarterback from the situation. Take Tua, for instance. He was not good against San Francisco. He missed throws that, at the surface, one wouldn’t expect. But San Francisco’s defense was able to throw off Tua’s timing on throws over the middle, and that timing is far more important to a QB than we give credit for.

That point brings us back to Brady. Stylistically, he’s a dying breed — a true pocket passer. The closest players in the league to Brady stylistically are Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff. Statistically, Goff and Brady are having similar seasons in 2022 when looking through the lens of efficiency.

Just a year ago, Brady was putting up record-breaking passing numbers, and Goff looked like one of the worst five QBs in the NFL. Less than 12 months later, he’s moved back toward the middle of the pack.

Goff’s situation improved. The Lions went from an incomplete offensive line with a few and one of the worst receiving corps in recent history to a dominant line from left to right and an improved receiving corps.

Meanwhile, things have moved in the opposite direction for Brady and the Buccaneers.

Brady’s Deteriorating Situation

The broadcast hit on it immediately. The Buccaneers offensive line is down to just Donovan Smith remaining from a season ago. Even he missed time earlier in the season and has issues in pass protection against true speed threats.

Ali Marpet up and retired before his 30th birthday to pursue an advanced degree in mental health. Alex Cappa signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Ryan Jensen, one of the league’s best centers, was injured before the season started. In Week 12, All-Pro right tackle Tristin Wirfs injured his ankle and is expected to miss a few weeks.

It’s not all bad, though. The Buccaneers replaced Cappa with Shaw Mason in exchange for a fifth-round pick. Mason is one of the best right guards in the NFL today. But Nick Leverette, Robert Hainsey, and Josh Wells are significant downgrades. While there’s a glimmer of hope that Jensen returns before the season’s end, it’s far from guaranteed.

The Buccaneers can’t run, so they rarely try to run. They’re worst in the league in rush EPA and have managed a league-worst 3.3 yards per carry. Only the Chargers run less often on a per-play basis.

The inability to run hurts, particularly in the red zone. It should come as no surprise that the Chargers and Buccaneers have similar issues scoring touchdowns in the red zone, where the field shrinks and passing becomes more difficult.

Magic Left in the Tank

Monday Night Football marked the first time Brady has come back from a 13-plus-point deficit in the fourth quarter in his career… during the regular season. I think we all remember the one time he did it in the playoffs.

With 5:21 left in the fourth quarter trailing 16-3, Brady was pressured in his own end zone and narrowly escaped throwing his second interception of the day on first-and-10. But from that moment on, Brady vowed not to waste that new lease on (game) life.

The Buccaneers went into the hurry-up offense, and passes that had lived around five yards from the line of scrimmage stretched their legs downfield. And wouldn’t you know, good things happened.

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Mike Evans, a forgotten man recently, became relevant again. He caught two passes on the right sideline in the Buccaneers’ penultimate drive and was the cause of Paulson Adebo’s 44-yard defensive pass interference on a second-and-20 on that same drive.

After the Saints only managed to only take 20 seconds off the clock and force Tampa to use only two of their timeouts on the next drive, Brady got the ball back with 2:29 left at the Buccaneers’ 37-yard line.

One of the Buccaneers remaining strengths is their receiving corps. On a crucial third-and-six on the final drive, Tampa Bay isolated none other than Scotty Miller on the backside of a 3×1 formation. He ran an outstanding slant with a beautiful release that gained him separation to convert.

And on the next play, Brady hit Julio Jones, once the NFL’s greatest receiver, on a contested back-shoulder dart. While Rachaad White was on the receiving end of Brady’s game-typing touchdown pass, it was that receiving depth and Brady’s ability that got them into the end zone.

Buccaneers’ Last Five Minutes are Why They’re Terrifying

Tampa Bay was a Wild Card team when they won the Super Bowl. They’ve had lulls in the regular season during the Brady era. The regular season simply isn’t all that important when the greatest winner in NFL history is the one throwing passes for your team.

That’s where things get really interesting to think about. Brady’s game is tailored around avoiding hits and playing it safe at this point. It’s why his time-to-throw is lower than anybody in the NFL not named P.J. Walker. Brady values his health, and whether we want to admit it or not, that’s probably detrimental to the Buccaneers’ offensive firepower.

But when it’s do-or-die and Brady has nothing left to lose, he’s going to stand in there and let plays develop. He’s going to take more downfield shots and invite the pressure more often. For lack of a more on-the-nose comparison, he’ll turn off his “give a f—” and make your defense look like Swiss cheese.

His “LET’S F—— GO!” and leap into Wirfs arms after his post-game interview showed it all. Brady is still hungry, and when he turns off the governor for all four quarters in a playoff environment?

Well, I wouldn’t want to be on the opposing sideline.

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