Can Pro Football Focus Stats Be Blindly Trusted?

In this age of sports analysis and analytics, it can be fascinating to see how the media picks and chooses what analysis to run with and which to mock and ignore.

One fascination that I don’t get is the lock-step acceptance of everything that comes out of the company known as Pro Football Focus.

They’re cited endlessly and their stats are treated as the end-all. Football writers seem to love their stats, using them in their articles as ironclad proof.

I did an interview with the founder of Pro Football Focus back in 2011. Even then I was a bit leery of their methods and tried to express that in the “subjective angle” question.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of days, Pro Football Focus was on your radar as one of their writers, in an ESPN Insider piece wrote the following:

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. The elite quarterback Mount Rushmore has been in place for a few years now, a comforting constant in an NFL of consistent turnover and change. But it might be time to wipe one of those four faces off our mountain of elite play. The Tom Brady of 2014 no longer belongs on that monument.

and in his concluding section, he writes:

but there is little doubt at this point that we are witnessing his decline in action. Brady is no longer an elite quarterback. He remains very good, but if the decline continues at the same rate, it won’t be long before that is no longer true.

This story took the sports media by storm, and has been easily the number one topic on sports radio, television, and on the internet. Everyone is talking about it.

The writer, Sam Monson, has made the media rounds talking about his opinion, so it’s a win-win for him, ESPN,  Pro Football Focus and the football media at large. An NFL discussion in the first week of June!

It almost – almost – feels like this piece was a response to the Peter King MMQB piece a week earlier which talked about Brady and his performance before and after the 2008 knee injury and how, in Brady’s words, “You know, you don’t have to suck when you get older.”

The point of this post however, is not to debate whether Tom Brady is on a swift decline or not. (I think that has been addressed by the likes of Tom E. Curran, Ron Borges, and Christopher Price.) It is to explore the dangers of blindly relying on data and conclusions that we have no idea if they are actually accurate and pertinent or not.

What Pro Football Focus Is (And What They Aren’t)

It is important to note what Pro Football Focus is. Actually, first we’ll define what they are NOT.  They are not taking raw numbers and data and crunching them into new and exotic formulas to provide a different sort of insight into player performance. This is not sabermetrics for football.

No, their methods are different. They are a UK-based company, who obtain games through NFL Rewind and sit and watch and grade each player on each play. Their dedication to this is admirable, as I can’t imagine sitting down and doing this kind of deep grading for every play, every game week after week.

I suppose there is some value in this data, in a big-picture sort of way. Stats on items like dropped passes, QB hits, things like that are likely extremely accurate. In my interview linked above, founder Neil Hornsby said that PFF’s value is this:

  • Who was on the field – in 2010 this was 99.83% accurate but we didn’t double hand most games then – this year we do so I’m predicting well in excess of 99.9%
  • What position they played (at a level which allows us to provide formation as well as package information)
  • What they generically did (block, pass route, cover, pass rush etc.)
  • A measure of how well they achieved what they attempted to do (obviously we don’t know their assignments so this is what we use)

The last part is the gotcha and this is where it is dangerous to put too much stock in the Pro Football Focus stats.

The Dangers In The PFF Method

Last August, Bill Belichick talked about the dangers of watching film and making conclusions based on it.

It might even look to us like somebody made a mistake but then we look at it more closely maybe somebody besides him made a mistake and he was trying to compensate. I think we need a little closer analysis a lot of times. Sometimes the play calls or what was called on the line of scrimmage might be something that we’re not aware of. That could happen in any game. You think a player did something that he shouldn’t have done but maybe he got a call, a line call or a call from a linebacker or he thought the quarterback said something so he did what he thought was the right thing or maybe it was the right thing but that call shouldn’t have been made or should have been on the other side. But yeah, I think we need to be careful about what we’re evaluating.

So sometimes even the team itself doesn’t know exactly where things broke down and who did what wrong. Belichick then went on to talk about watching opposing team’s game films and the impossibilities of knowing what happened:

But believe me, I’ve watched plenty of preseason games this time of year and you’re looking at all the other teams in the league and you try to evaluate players and you’re watching the teams that we’re going to play early in the season and there are plenty of plays where I have no idea what went wrong. Something’s wrong but I don’t…these two guys made a mistake but I don’t know which guy it was or if it was both of them. You just don’t know that. I don’t know how you can know that unless you’re really part of the team and know exactly what was supposed to happen on that play. I know there are a lot of experts out there that have it all figured out but I definitely don’t. This time of year, sometimes it’s hard to figure that out, exactly what they’re trying to do. When somebody makes a mistake, whose mistake is it?

Bill Belichick doesn’t have it figured out. But Pro Football Focus does? They can provide a grade on every play?

Another problem is that the NFL just recently added the coaches film to Game Rewind, so before that, the PFF graders could not even see the entire field. I don’t know if they currently even utilize the overhead game film, or just rely on the standard HD game telecasts. If it is the latter, they cannot see every player on the field for every play…so how can they grade what they can’t see? (And actually, the All-22 film doesn’t come out until mid-week, which is after PFF has posted their initial grades- so they’re not using it, at least in their first gradings.)

There HAS to be a subjective element in the grading process. They have to be making conclusions based on conjecture and assumption or what they “think” the player was attempting to do or was assigned to do on any given play.

On their own grading page, they explain their “rules” for making their grades:

• DON’T GUESS — If you’re not 95 percent sure what’s gone on then don’t grade the player for that play. The grades must stand up to scrutiny and criticism, and it’s far better to say you’re not sure than be wrong.

It is, however, crucial that this is not seen as an excuse to shy away from making a judgement. What we definitely do not do is raise or lower the grading because we’re not sure. Giving a grade of -0.5 rather than -1.5 for a player on an individual play because you’re unsure is the wrong grade to give. If the grader is 95 percent sure of the severe fault on the play, the grade is -1.5. If, however, the grader is unsure of his judgment, the correct grade is 0.

A couple things I don’t like here. How does the grader know whether they are 95% certain or just 90%? How many plays per game are going ungraded because a determination cannot be made?

Later, in the section which asks How subjective is the Grading?

Just like with the more mainstream statistics, there are occasions when the choice is difficult. But the difference on our site is this: If a guy is going to be upgraded or downgraded on a judgment call, we let it ride. We simply make the comment and then put in a 0.

Again, how often is this happening? It seems like it wouldn’t take many “0″ grades to skew the data.

Lastly, I hesitate to bring this part up, but part of me wonders the qualifications for doing this work. It feels like me taking a job to to play-by-play film breakdown on the Premier League.  What are the football coaching or scouting backgrounds for these UK analysts making these grades? Is there anyone on staff with an NFL background?

Why Such Devotion?

From all of this, the national media are using PFF stats as gospel? Why? Are the simple +1.2, -0.7 ratings so damn attractive that they are accepted without question? Is it just an easy way for the media to rate players without doing a lot of work themselves?

Honestly, I don’t know. As mentioned above, I do feel there is some merit and value to the work that Pro Football Focus is putting in. I just don’t get the slavish devotion to their grades that I see when I read many NFL articles.

Again, this is not taking actual numbers and using them to come up with new stats to use in analytics. This is not taking passes complete and passes attempted and breaking it down into the various lengths of throws and spots on the field. This is sitting down in front of the monitor, forming an opinion and making up their own stats and advanced formulas based on stats garnered from what they think is happening on each play.

I believe the NFL media as a whole needs to be a little more judicious in how they use these stats instead of blindly accepting what comes out of the PFF factory.


 

Some worthwhile sites with NFL stats and analytics include:

Advanced Football Analytics

TeamRankings.com

Football Outsiders

  • Steve S

    The football outsiders do similar things but are basing their information on above the average QB – http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/qb In 2013, Brady was sixth in DYAR (Defensive-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and 11th in DVOA (Defensive-Adjusted Value Over Average). DYAR is total value and DVOA is on a per play basis. The top four in each category in 2013 were: Manning, Rivers, Brees and Ryan for DYAR and Manning, Foles, Brees and McCown for DVOA.

  • bsmfan

    I thought PFF wasn’t bad until some of the stuff they’ve come out recently. I wish I had links but Brady isn’t the first team or player they’ve “hammered” using their own formulas. Are they officially partnered with ESPN or just let the guys write Insider pieces on there for clickbait? I couldn’t find anything.

    Anyways, you did a great breakdown of the problems in their methodologies. I saw more of a problem on the journalism end.

    The “Brady not Elite” narrative that polluted these and national airwaves was sickening. In the article, I have to assume that the author didn’t write the headline/post. That’s normally left to the copywriter or editorial folks, who don’t care about anything but clicks. Second, Felger–oddly enough–did the best job at analyzing the BS and legit parts of it. Most reasonable fans don’t think Brady is the same guy as he was before.
    Age does that to you. However, as Felger said, the author didn’t look at the receiver corps and Denver having one of the best pass blocking OLs, while the Patriots were something like 18th.

    Unfortunately, by then, the damage was done. I saw “Tom Brady” trending nationally for most of the day. ESPN won. They clearly knew what would happen and made sure to push it out on the daily talking points memo. That means Mike and Mike, Cowturd, SVP, First Take, every live SC from 9am on all hits on it. Their local affils also pick up on it. This is all ESPN’s doing.

    This is another case of ESPN’s new favorite tactic: they start a fire in one place, make sure its done around the most combustible and flammable things possible, and then run and celebrate as it spreads. I don’t have a term for it but it is like a journalistic “Münchausen syndrome by proxy“.

    Once this happens, every local station, no matter who owns them, had to “address it”. Nothing lights those lines up like this type of stuff. ESPN wins again. Part of it is the NFL offseason aspect, but what a producer might have slotted as a single segment could wind up being th entire show (baseball peple going nuts here). D&C had the guy on but I didn’t hear a show NOT talk about it. They’re still talking about it today. This market, more than most, usually ignores the garbage ESPN puts out, but could any show not hit it? It’s the offseason, this type of stuff gains traction, but I was surprised at how this imploded.

    Maybe I shouldn’t be anymore. ESPN did the same thing last year when they peddled Jaws out there to say that Kapernick could be a Top5 all-time QB. It completely owned all of SF and any NFC West marketplace. Not the same level of appeal given the player but the same exact strategy.

  • daver

    I think the more illuminating thing is the knee-jerk reaction of many fans and media types whenever anyone is critical of Brady in any way. If Manny Ramirez got the same treatment that Brady gets, the narrative last week would have been “Why didn’t the Commonwealth pass a law mandating that all breeding-aged females submit themselves for impregnation by the Greatest Baseball Player Ever to Grace the Fens”?

    Brady has not been the same since Bernard Pollard put the fear of cripple into him. Offensive line woes or not, he’s been jumpier in the pocket and far more focused on forcing passes to his binkies (Moss, Welker, Gronk) instead of the Best Available Open Option, as was the case in 2001-2003. At this stage in their careers, Manning is much, much better at making the players around him better. Brady demands you play up to his level, and seems to exclude you entirely if you don’t. If you had a team full of Randy Moss-level veterans, that might work. But he doesn’t; he has young receivers who need to be taught how to be great. An elite quarterback should be doing those team-building tasks to make the unit as a whole better. A non-elite quarterback (Philip Rivers, I’m looking STRAIGHT at you) doesn’t.

    There’s a whole lot of QBs out there whom I’d never pick over Brady to start for the Pats, but to answer Adam Kaufman’s BDC question, here’s five I would (from a football standpoint): Manning (P), Rodgers, Luck, Wilson, and Kaepernick — and I view Roethlisberger as a tossup. And yes, I’d rather have Andrew Luck right now — because I know he isn’t going to throw a hissyfit when Josh Boyce runs a crappy route and is out of position — he’ll just throw it to whomever didn’t run a crappy route, or throw it away and try again on the next down. You know — the things that Tom Brady used to do. Also, if the pocket breaks down on Luck, I have more confidence that his decision tree will contain more options than “fling ball at Edelman’s feet, wherever he is.”

    But that’s just my $.02.

    • BSF34

      “Brady has not been the same since Bernard Pollard put the fear of cripple into him.”

      5 straight pro bowl selections since the ACL injury plus a unanimous MVP choice in 2010.

      “And yes, I’d rather have Andrew Luck right now — because I know he isn’t going to throw a hissyfit when Josh Boyce runs a crappy route and is out of position”

      http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/colts/2013/10/05/indianapolis-colts-andrew-luck–animal-teammates-dull-public-image/2929595/

      • daver

        Wow. The Pro Bowl – the NFL’s equivalent of a student body president election — is what you’re using to justify Brady’s continued eliteness? Good luck with that. Matt Cassel was a Pro Bowler.

        Also, thanks for proving my point with the USA Today article. That’s the way an elite QB should act. You focus the team on the gameplan and improving themselves IN PRACTICE. As opposed to yelling at your rookie receivers DURING THE GAME, and then basically excluding them from your checkdowns for the rest of the game. Which I saw happen more than once last year with Brady. That’s the sort of prima donna BS I’d expect from Rivers. Brady’s supposed to be better than that.

        • BSF34

          “Wow. The Pro Bowl – the NFL’s equivalent of a student body president
          election — is what you’re using to justify Brady’s continued eliteness?”

          While pro bowl selections aren’t the be all and all measure of greatness
          your argument was “Brady has not been the same since Bernard Pollard put the fear of cripple into him”. Before the ACL, Brady was a 4 time pro bowl selection and won an MVP. After the ACL he was 5 time pro bowl selection and won another MVP. If you had said he hasn’t been the same the last season or two, you’d probably have a better case.

          “Matt Cassel was a Pro Bowler.”

          Yeah, once. Comparing that to a 9 time pro bowler?

          “. You focus the team on the gameplan and improving themselves IN
          PRACTICE. As opposed to yelling at your rookie receivers DURING THE
          GAME,”

          The article said he also yelled at players during games. Did you see as many, or more, Colts games as you did Patriots games last season where you can definitely say Luck never yelled at his players?

        • daver

          “Not the same” is not an equivalent statement to “not a good quarterback”. I kind of thought that was obvious. But again, if you dare criticize Tom Brady at all in this town, you’re a pariah… And he hasn’t been the same at all. As I said, he’s been jumpier and less willing to stand in the pocket and look for the most open receiver; he’s much quicker to force a pass to a ‘favored’ receiver. Which is how you get situations where Welker or, last year, Edelman have 2x-3x as many targets as the other WRs. That’s not the Tom Brady who won 3 Super Bowls. If the Tom Brady who ticky-tacked down the field with 30 seconds left in New Orleans finding whomever they left open in the prevent, instead of the Tom Brady who spent an ENTIRE HALF trying to force the ball to Randy Moss against a Giants team that was double and triple covering him, had been playing in the Super Bowl in 2007, we’d have another championship. It’s crushing that Samuel dropped an easy pick and whats-his-name (I refuse to put it in writing) caught an overthrown wobbler off his face, but the game manager Tom Brady of 2001 never would have let that game get to the situation where those plays would cause a loss. That’s how he’s changed. He’s putting up big stats BECAUSE HE IS STILL A GREAT QUARTERBACK. But he’s not at the elite level he was before the injury, because his decision-making is much poorer now, largely due to his skittishness in the pocket after the Pollard injury. So it’s nice that he’s made pro bowls and such, but that has no bearing on my point, because I’m not arguing that he’s statistically worse.

          Also, the article makes it clear that Luck is privately calling his players to account. Brady does this in view of the cameras:

          http://cdn0.sbnation.com/assets/3215031/bradyRAGE_medium.gif

          100% Phil Rivers. Do not want.

        • BSF34

          ” But again, if you dare criticize Tom Brady at all in this town, you’re a pariah..”

          I’m guessing you don’t listen to a lot of sports radio in this town or read the Globe.

          “Also, the article makes it clear that Luck is privately calling his players to account. Brady does this in view of the cameras:”

          Seriously, on this point who cares? Ohhh Tom’s a big meaning while Luck is a warm, generous lover.

  • Matt McKnight

    It’s good pub for PFF, and that’s all it is. They neglect edge pressure vs interior pressure, and the fact that no QB in history had a turnover like Brady did (losing top 5 targets from the previous year). IF you have read the piece – I haven’t – who is his top 5?

  • latetodinner

    Here I will make it easier for you. Any attempt to Sabrmetrisize football is wrong. I don’t care if it is Football Outsiders, Cold Hard Football Facts or PFF. Football stats are not predictive of future success. Never have been. The reason for that is football unlike all other sports is an orchestrated ballet of moves, positioning and decision making. All stats are made in a vacuum. They measure the end result and no part of the process. As such they miss the point of what happens on the field.

    I heard Sam Monson’s interview with D&C and because Callahan was so busy being condescending and incredulous he missed asking the important two questions:

    - If you believe that Brady is in decline because of statistical observations you make watching film but do not take into account the talent, play, assignments of other players then explain to me how you determine Brady’s value. All you did was make a tuatalogical argument that starts with the premiss that Brady has gotten worse, and then when you ignore all other factors you come to the conclusion that Brady has gotten worse.

    - if you believe that Peyton Manning is better than Brady without taking into account the supporting cast around him, then tell me…if Brady was on Denver and Manning was in NE would the Pats have gone to the SB last year?

    One last thing. Dave R… There is Brady. Then one level down there is Manning (P), Rodgers and maybe Drew Brees. After that there is a huge gap and you get to Russel Wilson, Andrew Luck and Matt Stafford. Brady does much more with much less. It is not even close.

    • Homer Greenz

      “Football stats are not predictive of future success. Never have been.”

      Not true. You can scream it from the mountaintops, as loudly as possible and as many times as possible, but it’s already been disproven.

      • latetodinner

        It has not been disproven. There is a reason why guys like Kerry Burns say things like ” A stat like defensive passer rating, while not a predictor mostly shows…” They also look primarily at team stats and try like hell to avoid individual ones like what PFF does. If they were as predictive as you are suggesting then Vegas would be out of business.

        When you start with a sabrametric analysis of football you miss all the things that cannot be measured. Does certain team statistics show trends sure…are they predictive no. Are the definitive, absolutely not. Are they useless…not as much as individual stats but pretty darn close. A QB who racks up 400 passing yards a game when his team only wins 4 games does so because his defense is so bad he is always playing from behind.

        • QuantumMechanic

          You’re thinking too simplistically.

          For example, one can develop stats that normalize for situation. In other words, how does QB X (or team X) do when trailing by 7-14 points in the last 7:30 of the 4th quarter versus all QBs (or teams) in the same situation, and so on.

          This is the sort of thing that Football Outsiders, for one, does.

        • latetodinner

          Yes but the problem is the stats for how a team does against a 3-4 def don’t hold up against a 4-3 defense. Or it might come down to specific personal. The Football Outsider stats track general trends but unlike baseball stats they are far less predictive. As such they are difficult to use in making an analysis of what will happen. they are more accurate when looking at team performance than when looking at an individual player’s metric. I just think that when you base an argument on a sabrmetric approach, within football, it is doomed to failure.

    • daver

      I love the “he doesn’t have the weapons” argument. Because it’s missing the point. “What if Tom Brady had Peyton Manning’s great assets around him?” Well… maybe the Broncos have great receivers because Peyton Manning is better at getting them the ball! Eric Decker was a 3rd round draft pick. He was taken a couple of picks ahead of the legendary Taylor Price, and a couple of picks behind the legendary Jordan Shipley (CIN). Price flamed out. Shipley flamed out. Decker, while Tebow/Orton were calling the signals in Denver, put up numbers a lot like — hey, whaddya know? — Aaron Dobson. And then, some former Colts nerd shows up, and he’s a 1000-yard receiver for two consecutive seasons.

      But of course this is the result of the Broncos sprinkling their legendary Magical Elite Receiver Fairy Dust ™ all over him to turn him into the sort of High Quality Asset the Patriots Refuse To Supply To Tom Brady, and not, you know, a case of the quarterback actually throwing to a guy and making him better. Perish the thought. It’s all about Tom Brady Doing Less With The Scraps He’s Thrown Compared To The Virtual Mercedes of Receivers Peyton Manning Is Gifted.

      Yeah, right.

      • latetodinner

        So when the offense was built around a two TE set and then both TE’s go away (one to injury, one as a guest of the state) and there was no backup plan where dollars were spent on an outside, downfield receiver then yes he has less weapons. Eric Decker as the third option when the first two were Wes Welker and Demarius Thomas does portend to him being better than any of the third options the Pats rolled out last year…Thompkins, Boyce, a reclaimed Austin Collie? Had Decker played on the Pats last year he would have led the team in receptions…yes he would have had more than Edelman.

        Brady, even with the flotsam and jetsam he was given last year still had the team in the AFC championship. So no I do not think his skills are diminishing noticeably. I think he is saddled with a lousy Offensive coordinator who unlike Charlie Weis and Bill O’brien seems intent to have Brady be Peyton Manning. Even with that Brady still is able to move the ball and get the team deep into the playoffs. I think you are just wrong about Brady.

  • the_other_side

    I wonder how they are supposed to grade a wr in a system like the Patriots when the wr doesn’t even know what he’s doing until just before the ball is snapped and then once the coverage changes post-snap, they readjust their routes. When NE player makes a catch was it a good adjustment/read by the offense or just poor coverage?

    On the other hand, the local scribes take the guess work out of grading the Pats’ defense. Any catch by the opposition is proof that NE can’t stop anyone and they need to replace every bum on that side of the ball. Any stop by NE is clearly a misplay by the offense as the Patriots’ defense clearly couldn’t get off of the field without help.

  • the_other_side

    We forget a big drop late in the last Super Bowl vs NYG. Yes, Welker gets a lot of flack but don’t forget that a guy who is currently in jail had a big drop over the middle as well on that same drive (I believe).

  • StoJa9

    My favorite part was when Monson or whatever his name is told D&C&M that winning is basically irrelevant and QBs don’t really play a key role in it. DA FUQ?? Remember last fall when a poll by CURRENT NFL players voted overwhelmingly that TB12 was the QB they want on the field in the final two minutes? Guess PFF missed that. Not a sabermetric you can measure, I guess

  • JohnQ

    The main problem is, as you touch upon, the average fan or television analyst or other media person simply doesn’t have the time or educated perspective to watch film on a player.

    Tom Brady played more than 1000 snaps in 2013. You gotta watch those snaps multiples times to figure out what’s going on. So you’re talking about watching maybe 3000 snaps. Who the heck has time for that? They’d rather blab on a message board or drink some beer.

    I’m all for an alternative to Pro Football Focus. If someone wants to start a competing service – I’m all for it. Some Giants fans tried to do that for their team a couple seasons ago. They gave up because it was too time consuming, I assume.

    There are just very few analysts outside of PFF that actually watch film in detail.

    So it’s not about trusting Pro Football Focus so much as trusting someone who has probably watched far less film to make an educated opinion.

    PFF is used by NFL teams, and NFL teams do give feedback to PFF on their grading, so it’s not like PFF is completely removed from how coaches grade their players.

  • JohnQ

    It comes down to the following: you don’t like PFFs conclusions on Tom Brady? Fine. Watch all of Tom’s 1000+ snaps in detail from the 2013 season and do an analysis on them and show us why they’re wrong.

  • latetodinner

    Dave is a really good guy and I have learned a lot from arguing with him over the years…but his football is way behind his baseball (he would probably argue my baseball is behind my football so we would be even). Having said that…yes I do think he would say that QB12 should have known his two best receiving threats/TE’s would be injured and a ward of the state prior to the season. Dave is clarevoyient like that.

    In all seriousness…there are very few posters whose opinion I value more than his.

    • daver

      Thank you LTD. Ditto.

      You’re confusing two issues here, I think, though. I completely agree that losing Hernandez right before training camp started completely changed the complexion of the offense. And an offense built around a 2-receiving-TE scheme suddenly lacking ANY TEs who could play in that scheme, let alone two of them and having to redraft an entire offensive scheme on the fly is like tieing one hand behind your back. But any failings there are on the coaching staff, not on the QB executing the offense. I don’t fault Brady on that stance.

      So I see your argument which — correct me if I’m wrong — boils down to “don’t blame Brady for throwing to Edelman so much when the offense was basically in a shambles post-Hernandez/Gronk”. Fair enough.

      The issue I’m addressing is that when Hernandez and Gronk were healthy and active… Brady was STILL throwing to Welker 200 times a season while everyone else struggled to get up to 100 targets. Obviously, a lot of plays were designed to go to Wes after the TEs and edge receivers cleared out the safety help underneath for him. But a lot were not, and it’s because, IMHO, of the change in Brady as a QB post-Pollard.

      What I used to see was a pressured Brady still going through his checkdowns and finding the open man, stepping up out of the pressure until he found his man or threw it away. That’s the Brady of 2000-2005. What I see today is a pressured Brady locking in on his favorite, be it Welker or Edelman or (sometimes) Gronk, and throwing a “make a great catch or fall incomplete” pass. That is, when he isn’t turtling. I haven’t seen him do the calm step-up out of pressure in years. Part of that may be due to a decline in OL ability/talent, but he’s far more skittish in the pocket than he used to be, and I see that affecting his decision making. Tom isn’t a hugely skilled QB in the abstract; he’s probably average in arm strength and a bit above-average in accuracy. What made him elite in his prime was that ability to stand like a lighthouse with the waves of the DL crashing around him until he found his man. (The same characteristic that Grogan used to have.)

      Any statistic, PFF or otherwise, should always be taken as an element of data, not as a fixture of truth, when making predictions or analyses of future events. (Which is what determining whether Brady is still ‘elite’ boils down to – a prediction of the future.) So Bruce’s overall argument holds. What I find interesting is that the gist of the PFF article is that Brady is no longer the outstanding QB he was when under pressure, something I feel I’ve seen with my own eyes over the last several years. And as the OL performance has dropped, he’s been under pressure more and more, which does not bode well for the future. And the excellence in the pocket under pressure in the past was not achieved with demonstrably better talent around him (excluding the OL) than he has today.

      If anyone had actually read that “Brady is not elite” article — which I doubt any of the Boston media types who were quick to jump on it have — you’d see that the conclusion it draws it that the Pats shouldn’t concern themselves with adding wide receiver talent so much as they should be concerned with beefing up Brady’s OL protection, as he’s still performing at an elite level when NOT under pressure.

      But I’m just not going to agree if someone says that Tom Brady is the same elite QB he was in 2003, and is still at the top of the QB rankings with Peyton Manning, when I’ve seen his game change so dramatically since Pollard shredded his knee.

      • latetodinner

        So Dave….the element I think you are missing which I am concentrating on directly is the effect Charlie Weis had on Brady versus Josh McDaniel and how Bill OB fit in between.

        I completely agree with you that Brady was a different QB up through the 2004 season when Weis was the OC. Weis forced/taught/coached Brady to complete reads and when he saw nothing take the open receiver to fight another day. The approach made Troy Brown a local hero, David Patten into a serviceable receiver and David Givens into a $10 mill option in Washington…when in fact none of them could have started on any other team in the NFL at the time.

        Brady’s change comes when Josh McDaniel takes over in 2005 and the voila Brady morphs into Payton Manning and the Pats morph into the Colts. It still infuriates me. The Pats finally god rid of McDaniels, who sucks by the way…I have no idea what Belichick sees in him… and Billy O’Brien comes in. He morphs the offense into the two TE set where the Pats are determined between Gronk, Hernandez and Welker to control the middle of the field and overload the slot (perceived to be manned by the weaker 3rd cb). It is a smart move and it pays huge dividends for the pats.

        Last year the Brady gets a triple whammy…Gronk’s injury, Hernandez’s murder spree, and the return of McDaniels. McDaniels major problem is he is so insistent on going down the field that he forces Brady to hold the ball longer. It does not matter who the OL is …if the plays take 4 seconds to develop then Brady is going to look like he is declining. Get rid of McDaniels, bring back Weis and you will see the return of smart decision/quick release Brady. Without that move…you are stuck with idiotic analysis by guys like Sam Munson who do not know what they are watching because they do not understand the nuance of the Pats offense as it has evolved over these last 13 years.

  • Mike

    I love Tom Brady but I think the discussion is worthwhile. The first half of the season he was not as good as we have been spoiled to watch – it was difficult to know how much of that was related to personnel changes and such but he clearly was not on top of his game either. By the end of the year he was playing much better. There are too many variables to say without question if one QB is better than another (at this level) but I do think it worthwhile to question whether he declined a little – I wouldn’t be surprised if Belichick isn’t watching for it!

    Now Peyton has clearly lost a bit – his ball flutters and there are throws he clearly struggles with these days. But his weapons are fantastic and they play to his strengths. Brady didn’t have the same weapons.

    Also, we talk about weapons in terms of receivers and offensive skill positions but the offensive line was not as strong last year as well. That will also play a part – look at the AFC Championship Game where Brady was constantly throwing through hands or stepping around bodies if not running to avoid them. But Peyton had a mostly clean pocket much of the day. Makes a difference so how do you fairly compare the two QBs on such a day?

  • bsmfan

    General media here but Ty Duffy, over at The Big Lead, wrote a great piece on what is right and wrong with Twitter and the sports media:

    http://thebiglead.com/2014/06/05/twitter-sports-medias-useful-entertaining-and-unhealthy-obsession/#sthash.zqaVbNSH.uxfs

  • Pingback: Reads Listens Views 6/6/14 | The Rookie Scouting Portfolio

  • Tony C

    Honestly, I think this “he’s no longer elite” stuff is the best possible thing that could have happened to the Pats heading into the new season. Brady is nothing if not a highly motivated, hyper-competitive maniac who will use such criticisms as fuel for his fire all year long. The fact is that 2013 was the first year in several that his passer rating was not above 100, and given the issues with the receiving corps and offensive line, that is somewhat understandable. It would be instructive to see what his passer rating was during the several weeks at mid-season that Gronkowski was healthy. I do know, for a fact, that the Pats’ weekly scoring average rocketed up during that time period, and then dropped right after Gronk’s knee was wrecked against the Browns.

    And, remember folks, Brady had to win three Super Bowls before most of the national media even dared to begin mentioning his name in the same breath as Manning. Not one, not two, but three–even after two Super Bowl MVPs and a lights-out performance against the Panthers in SB 38, he still couldn’t get the national media totally on board with him. It was after SB 39 and the post-game comments of some of the Philadelphia defenders (“I didn’t realize he was that good”) when Brady finally started getting some of the national media love that Manning always enjoyed, from Day One.

%d bloggers like this: