Tom Brady and Bruce Arians have been disproportionately blamed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ woes of late, but one NFL reporter disagrees.
“Can’t we pin the blame on Antonio Brown?,” CBS Boston’s Michael Hurley wrote in a Friday column.
Hurley went inside the numbers and showed that Brady’s production has dropped markedly after the addition of the star wide receiver in October. Prior to Brown’s arrival, Brady completed 66.2% of his passes, threw for 2,189 yards, 20 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Since Brown joined, Brady’s completion percentage has dipped to 60.8%, while he has thrown for only 766 yards, 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in three games.
Some of Tampa Bay’s prominent team stats have been impacted by Brown, too. After going 6-2 in their first eight games, the Bucs have dropped two of their last three with Brown on the roster. The offense has also seen its average points per game dip from 31 to 24, as Hurley noted.
Much to the team’s chagrin, Brown hasn’t tallied any of those 24 points per game in his time in Tampa. He has 18 catches, 157 yards and no touchdowns through Week 11.
“Well, he was open,” Arians said during his November 24 press conference, via NBC Sports’ Mike Florio. “We had one go off his fingertips [and] I’m used to seeing him make that catch. We missed him last week on a ball, so it’s just a matter of hitting him. He’s doing a great job of running after the catch and within his role, I think he’s doing a really good job. It’s just when he’s going deep, we’re not hitting him.”
Both Florio and Hurley noted that Brady primarily targets Brown, with the latter writing the number of targets for Brown increases by the week and that “Brady has locked in on Brown and forced passes that would have been better off going somewhere else.” Brown led the Bucs in targets (13) against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 11.
By the numbers, adding Brown hasn’t significantly improved Brady’s game. Hurley wrote that “Brady has a 68.9 passer rating when targeting Brown, and a 96.7 passer rating when targeting everyone else.”
The Buccaneers looked like the hottest team in football before Brown’s arrival. Media personalities and outlets alike practically crowned Tampa Bay Super Bowl champions at midseason after torching the Green Bay Packers 38-10 in Week 6 and rolling past the Las Vegas Raiders 45-20 in Week 7. Despite needing an Antoine Winfield Jr. pass deflection to preserve a win in Week 8, the Bus extended their winning streak to three games with a 25-23 victory over the New York Giants.
During that stretch, Brady threw like it was 2007 when he led the New England Patriots to a 16-0 regular season record with monster passing stats. Hurley noted that Brady completed 69.6% of his passes, threw for 814 yards, 8 touchdowns and no interceptions in Weeks 6-8 this season before Brown suited up.
Brady hasn’t come close to matching that with Brown in the fold, with a nearly 9% lower completion percentage, almost half of the touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.
Brown’s Presence Diminishing Roles of Miller, Johnson
Fellow Wideouts Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson stepped up often before Brown joined the fold, with Miller tallying four games of 70 or more receiving yards early in the season. He now has 2 receptions since Brown’s snaps have seen a moderate increase in recent weeks.
Similarly, Hurley noted that Johnson, a fifth-round rookie out of Minnesota, emerged with 107 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 receptions between Weeks 5-8, but has mustered only a single catch since.
Tampa Bay Times reporter Rick Stroud wrote that Miller’s reduction occurred because he has “battled hamstring and groin injuries this season,” which Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has since confirmed.
“He was really unhealthy for a few weeks and we had to get him healthy because he wasn’t playing fast and we had to get him healthy to be able to run and do those things he was doing,” Leftwich said during last week’s press conference, via Stroud. “We’ll get him back healthy and he’ll be more and more involved as we go on just because he’s a great player and he makes plays for us. He’ll be more and more involved as we move on.”