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Perry: Arians, Bucs offense needs to let Brady be Brady

/ by Phil Perry
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Something's up in Tampa Bay. 

The football-watching world saw Tom Brady come undone on a national stage Monday night, but that game was merely a three-hour symptom of what has been a larger, ongoing issue with the Buccaneers offense.

That issue? Fairly straightforward: Brady has struggled throwing deep down the field; Bruce Arians runs an offense that subsists on down-the-field throwing. 

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Brady is tied with Aaron Rodgers for the league lead in pass attempts that travel 20 yards or more (58). His air yards per attempt (8.9) is fourth-highest in football and resides on a different plane than his 2007 average (8.0), which was 30th in the NFL that season according to The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin.

Yet all those deep shots have led to an adjusted completion percentage (36.2) and rating (68.7) that both rank just 26th in the league, per Pro Football Focus. Brady leads the league in deep incompletions with 40.

Over the last four weeks, Brady's deep-ball efficiency has dipped even further. He has completed one deep pass and thrown three picks (a fourth was dropped by the Rams on Monday) on 19 attempts (fourth-most) in that time, per PFF. His 0.0 rating ranks 33rd out of 33 qualifying passers and sits well behind the mark of Cowboys third-stringer Ben DiNucci (39.6), who has tossed nothing but incompletions on his prayers down the field.

It's something many guessed as soon as Brady signed with his new team in the offseason. When Arians' "no risk it, no biscuit" scheme collided with the quarterback who has often said "nothing good happens when I've got the ball in my hands," there were bound to be bumps in the road. But they're now 11 games into their marriage, and it appears as shaky as ever.

 
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Further highlighting Tampa's down-the-field problem is that Brady has been so effective throwing shorter, it has buoyed some of his other statistics. 

He's fourth in the NFL in touchdown passes and his team is sixth in points per game. He's a middle-of-the-pack passer when it comes to his rating (16th) and his expected points added per play (15th) as he's completed over 70 percent of his passes with a 108.9 rating and a better than 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on passes targeted between the line of scrimmage and 19 yards down the field, according to Pro Football Focus. 

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Still, encouraged to go long time and again, Brady ranks 25th in both completion percentage and yards per attempt this season. 

Expectations were higher -- much higher -- when the greatest quarterback to ever do it teamed up with arguably the most talented complement of pass-catchers in the NFL. Then Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown joined the fray, and things have somehow gotten worse as they've become more involved. Since Week 7, Brady is 28th in yards per attempt, 26th in rating and third in interceptions, behind only Drew Lock and Jake Luton.    

There could be other explanations for why the vertical passing game has suffered in Tampa Bay. There's been turnover on the Bucs offensive line. It's still a relatively new system for Brady. Perhaps defenses are taking away intermediate throws to force Brady to go deep. 

But reversing their season-long trends might require the Bucs to accept a philosophical shift that they've put off for too long. It might require they accept that Brady shouldn't be asked to be someone he's not.

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This week -- it being Thanksgiving and all -- Brady, Arians and Leftwich should gather 'round and have a chat. As a family. It might get awkward.

But if they're going to end up where they want to go, they may have to forget about that biscuit with which they've become so enamored and replace it with a heaping portion of reality.