How Isaiah Wynn proved he can help unlock Patriots' potential

How Isaiah Wynn proved he can help unlock Patriots' potential

FOXBORO — Tom Brady's frustration level with the Patriots offense over the course of the season has been understandable. He knows they're capable of doing more than getting into the teens on the scoreboard, as they've done each of the last two weeks.

"I'd like to see us reach our potential as an offense," Brady told Westwood One's Jim Gray ahead of last weekend's game with the Cowboys. "I don't think we've got there yet."

They may be getting closer, though, now that their starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn is back in the fold — even after scoring just 13 over the weekend. 

It was far from a perfect return for Wynn after he sat out eight weeks on injured reserve. He allowed a strip sack, two hits and two quarterback hurries. But his presence on the left side, against a talented Cowboys pass rush that one rival NFC evaluator described to me as "a problem," seemed to settle things down for the Patriots passing game.

If Wynn can help provide Brady with a little more time, there's no question the Patriots offense will start to approach that ceiling Brady is so desperate to reach on a more regular basis.

Consider these numbers, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, illustrating just how critical it is for Brady to get the time he needs in the pocket:

  • Brady under pressure: 59.1 accuracy percentage (takes into account drops, throwaways, passes batted at the line), 48.3 rating
  • Brady kept clean: 78.8 accuracy percentage, 103.4 rating

Brady's rating under pressure is one of the worst in football (27th). His rating when kept clean, meanwhile, puts him just ahead of the middle of the pack (13th). His protection is key. And with Wynn back on Sunday, despite the pressures allowed by the second-year player out of Georgia, Brady's protection seemed to experience a sudden boost.

After averaging 2.51 seconds to throw through the first 10 games of the season, Brady had 2.71 seconds to throw against Dallas, per PFF. Though that may seem like a small uptick, Brady's results down the field had him looking like a different quarterback than the one who showed up in Philadelphia the week prior.

With little time to throw and little in the way of down-the-field threats, Brady was off the mark on a variety of passes against the Eagles. On those plays, he was typically either pressured, put on the move by design (often to avoid pressure off the left side), or hurried when he didn't necessarily have to be. That last category of throw — where he simply looks uncomfortable — seemed to suddenly go away Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Any coincidence it was because he was more confident in the play of his left tackle? Brady was pining for Wynn back in October.

"We have one [player] that we’re hoping can return from injury, Isaiah Wynn, who was our left tackle to start the year," Brady told Gray at the time. "He’s working hard and progressing, and any time you get players back, it not only improves the depth of the team, but you get some youthful exuberance, as well.

'"So any time you get players back from injury, I think it’s a benefit to the team ... We’re certainly hoping Isaiah can come back at some point.”

With Wynn back, Brady went from barely trying passes down the field against the Eagles, to thriving with his feet set on deep shots.

This 23-yard completion to a diving Julian Edelman late in the fourth quarter might've been one of his best throws of the season. Poor throwing conditions, into the wind (notice the flags atop the field goal uprights), and he drops it on a dime to his favorite target.

Wynn checks in here with a nice one-on-one rep against Michael Bennett. It looks initially like he might set a little too wide off the snap, especially with Sony Michel trying to pitch in with a chip, but he recovers and shuffles to cut off Bennett's rush before he can bother Brady.

From snap to throw, Brady has over three seconds. 

Earlier in the game, Wynn and left guard Joe Thuney handle a two-man game to give Brady all the time he needs to find Edelman deep down the left side of the field. Notice Brady's demeanor in the pocket. Even with Maliek Collins getting close, his footwork makes it look as though he's making a warmup toss in training camp.

From snap to throw, I clocked Brady as having 2.8 seconds.

This next throw might've been Brady's best pocket of the night. It was a third-and-eight play during a two-minute drill. Obvious passing situation. The Cowboys were able to pin their ears back and get up the field as their scheme encourages them to do almost across situations. Yet Brady may as well be on the beach here considering how easily he makes this throw to Jakobi Meyers for 23 yards. 

Wynn gets some help on Robert Quinn here from James White, and Brady has more than enough time to go execute his mechanics. From snap to throw, he had over 3.5 seconds. That's a quarterback's dream.

Brady, as you'll see here, and as you've seen over the course of the last several seasons, still has the ability to buy some time for himself when he needs to. It just can't be a jailbreak up front. 

On this snap, Wynn does all he can with Quinn's speed rush that starts to the outside and then cuts in. Brady senses the space outside, dips around both players as Wynn washes Quinn down the line, turns his shoulders and fires a strike to Edelman 20 yards down the field, on a line. 

From snap to throw, thanks in part to his own quickness and instincts, Brady had about 3.5 seconds to throw yet again. 

The Patriots offense wasn't loaded with talent against Dallas. They were without Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett — two of their top four receivers. But when Brady has time, he's still special. When he has time, even his reserve receivers can uncover for big gains down the field. 

Brady clearly still believes this offense has more potential than it has shown. He clearly still believes he's capable of drawing it out. He just needs a little bit of time. Despite a few hiccups in his first game back, having Wynn back looks like it will go a long way in providing Brady the extra split seconds he needs.


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Aaron Rodgers describes how 'Belichick effect' has impacted the NFL

Aaron Rodgers describes how 'Belichick effect' has impacted the NFL

The Green Bay Packers are preparing for a battle the San Francisco 49ers on the NFL's championship Sunday. The two will square off in the NFC Championship for the right to advance to the Super Bowl.

While Aaron Rodgers and his teammates are doing what they can to be ready for the game, they still aren't exactly sure what to expect from the 49ers.

And Rodgers credited Bill Belichick's influence for that.

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Rodgers explained in a post-practice interview that not knowing what to expect from opposing defenses is something that has been popularized over the course of the past five years. And he called the defense's ability to change up week to week "the Belichick effect".

"I think that’s the NFL in the last five years, especially, it’s kind of the Belichick effect where teams are more reluctant to really try and scheme up opponents instead of relying on their base defense," Rodgers said to reporters.

"There’s less and less teams like the Lovie Smith Bears defenses over the years that say ‘Hey, screw it, we’re going to play four-man front, play Tampa-2 the entire game and make you go the whole field, and strip the ball and tackle securely and stop the run with a six-man, seven-man front.’

"There’s more teams that are scheming specifically up for teams. I think the tough part is it might be different than you saw on film. The drawback from that is a lot of these teams are used to playing coverages they’re not used to playing, they’re not super-comfortable playing, they don’t have a lot of reps in and that can cause some confusion at times."

Rodgers hit the nail on the head as the NFL's best defenses have become more versatile and game plan-dependent in recent seasons. Having multiple defensive looks is essential to success in the modern NFL and Belichick's ability to adjust week in and week out played a big role in kicking off the trend.

Though the Patriots won't have a chance to out scheme anyone on the defensive side of the ball until next season, they can be thankful that they have a forward-thinking coach at the helm. His ability to adjust on defense as well as Josh McDaniels' ability to change the Patriots offense look to match their best weapons have helped to make the team difficult to figure out.

And that's a big part of the reason that they have been able to make multiple deep postseason runs in recent seasons.

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Packers aiming to match rare playoff feat last accomplished by Patriots in 2001

Packers aiming to match rare playoff feat last accomplished by Patriots in 2001

The Green Bay Packers earned an impressive 13-3 record in the regular season, but they haven't always looked like an elite team.

The NFC North champs ranked 15th in points scored, 18th in yards gained and 18th in yards allowed. These numbers don't exactly jump off the page. The Packers also lacked a signature win, and with a chance to make a statement versus the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12, Green Bay was dominated in a 38-7 loss.

However, if veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads his team to an NFC Championship Game victory on the road against the 49ers on Sunday, the Packers will become the first team since the 2001 New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl after being outgained in the regular season (h/t to NFL Media's Mike Giardi).

The Packers defense gave up 5,642 total yards, while their offense racked up 5,528 total yards, resulting in a difference of minus-114 yards through 16 regular-season games.

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This trend continued in last weekend's NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers escaped with a 28-23 win at Lambeau Field, but the Seahawks outgained them by 31 yards. It also was the Packers' 10th game of the season decided by one score, and Green Bay owns a 9-1 mark in those matchups.

How have the Packers won so many games despite being outgained on a consistent basis? Well, it sure helps to have a quarterback as talented as Rodgers.

The future Hall of Famer sealed the Packers' victory last week with two clutch third-down conversions late in the fourth quarter. It wasn't an all-time performance from Rodgers, but when it's winning time, he usually steps up and makes a huge play. 

Rodgers' playoff experience and ability to come through in the clutch give the Packers an important advantage at the quarterback position entering Sunday's NFC title game. Oddsmakers, however, have still pegged the 49ers as an overwhelming betting favorite.