In the midst of one of the best seasons of his career, Tom Brady had virtually mastered every skill as a quarterback.
While his accuracy, play-calling, and ability to read a defence gets the most credit, Brady has basically perfected a very subtle, but useful skill in the Patriots offence.
As Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe notes, Brady may be the best in the league at the QB sneak: a quick lunge in short-yardage situations to pick up a first down.
According to Howe, over Brady’s career, he’s picked up first downs on third- and fourth-and-one situations 91% (92-101) of the time, including playoffs. This year, he’s 7-8. For comparison, Peyton Manning, who is a similar style quarterback to Brady, is 15-22 in career QB sneak attempts.
For a guy not known for his speed, Brady is surprisingly cat-like in his ability to receive the snap and dive for the first down. He did it against the Dolphins in Week 8:
The blocking is also very important here. Notice the extra space Brady gets simply because his offensive line pushes the defensive line away:
Brady was also able to get a touchdown with this play in Week 7 against the Jets:
As simple as it may look, Brady has to be able to read the defence for such small, but important gains.
Howe notes in the season-opener against the Steelers, Brady saw a left defensive tackle shift to the outside on a third-and-one, yelled “Alert! Alert!” and changed the play to a QB sneak, noting the new hole in the defence where he could get in.
Patriots center David Andrews admitted that sometimes Brady just calls the audible on his own.
“The guys on our unit, we kind of get into a rhythm and how [Brady] likes to do things. We can kind of figure out what he is thinking at times, but sometimes, he makes [the QB sneak call] when we’re not thinking it. He does a good job of reading the defence and knowing when and when not to.”
Brady admitted to Howe that he’s taken some big hits doing the play, which obviously isn’t ideal. However, he also admitted that from all of his practice, he’s figured out certain angles and ways to avoid big hits.
On a Patriots team loaded with offensive weapons, this is just another thing for opponents to have to worry about. Preventing the Patriots from getting a first down on two or three attempts is impressive. It is undoubtedly frustrating to get them to a fourth-and-one, only to have the offence stay on the field and have Brady dive for a first to keep the possession alive.
It may be a subtle skill, but it’s yet another quarterback responsibility that Brady does better than others.
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