Brady, Arians and the system: Match made in heaven or hell?

By Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)

Tom Brady’s decision to move to Tampa Bay and join Bruce Arians had many heads turning when it was announced back in March, as one of the great play-callers in the league was going to get to work with quite possibly the greatest quarterback in the games history.

TB12’s decision to leave his spiritual home in New England and head south to the sweltering heat of Florida, surprised the majority of sports media who had spent a month predicting his imminent arrival in Los Angeles as a Charger.

Now however, with the dust settled, and Brady firmly moved into Derek Jeter’s sprawling mansion, its time to work out whether Arians is going to have to compromise his vertical system for a quarterback creeping towards 45 and a history of papercutting his opponents to death.

In 2019, Brady threw a total of 60 deep pass attempts in the regular season, with a 41.7% completion rate on those passes, which ranks 9th in the league per playerprofiler.com which certainly doesn’t sound like someone who is struggling to dial up the ball deep.

That being said, the season was probably best summed up, in terms of the deep throw, in the New England Patriots home game against the New York Giants in Week 6.

New England Patriots Vs The New York Jets: 15 Key Moments In The ...
Nick Laham – Getty

In that game, Brady made a throw well off the mark down the seam that was picked off at the 13 yard line by Janoris Jenkins less than 10 minutes into the game, only to come back in the 3rd quarter and dial up an almost identical deep ball, this one an absolute dime, over the defence and into the diving hands of Julian Edelman.

The big question is then, has Brady still got the skills to make Arians system tick?


So, what actually is the Bruce Arians system?

Arians offensive system has become known as a sort of air raid. Designed to drive the ball deep over the defence at any opportunity with as many receivers on the field as is possible.

Having spent a lot of his time in the NFL as a QB coach, to some of the best players that the league has to offer like Big Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, Arians has made his system very stat-friendly to whoever is under centre.

Black and Gold: Don't blame Arians for Steelers' poor offense
Sports Illustrated / Damian Strohmeyer

Known as a “QB-whisperer”, Arians has managed to get the best out of the players he has worked with, and Brady should be no different.

Despite all the benefits to working with Bruce, it does also rely on having someone who can make a five or seven step drop and take constant advantage of man-to-man coverage on the outside with accurately thrown deep-routes.

When Arians took charge in Tampa Bay, everyone could see that he had arguably the best receiving duo in football to run this down-the-field system with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Arians duly took advantage of having such a dynamic combo in his first year, with both players going for over 1100 yards in 2019.

He also loves to have his receivers on the field at any time, in case a deep shot opportunity presents itself, but that means that his guys also have to be ready to block in the running game, something that Evans and Godwin were not shy to do last year.

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They even got Breshad Perriman, former-first rounder and NFL journeyman, to rank fourth in yards per catch last year, as the Buccaneers saw all three of their receivers in the top 13 of that category which clearly shows how Arians is using his weapons to stretch the field as far as possible.

With Jameis Winston at the helm last year, there was no discussion at all whether they could take advantage of those 20+ yard routes with the arm strength, but ultimately, his 30 interceptions bought a close to the Arians and Winston experiment.

Brady will almost certainly be far more reliable with the ball, but whether he has the arm to make the most of Arians system is the real question.


Can Tom still make all the throws?

For Brady, it seems more as though he hasn’t been asked or provided with the weapons to stretch the field vertically since that infamous 2007 season and his time with Randy Moss, rather than his inability to make the throws.

In that unbeaten regular season where Moss average over 93 yards per game, Brady also experienced his first campaign with Wes Welker which led to TB12 registering career highs in almost all passing categories.

Chargers reportedly in hunt for Tom Brady as free-agency frenzy ...
Maddie Meyer / Getty

In that season, with the downfield threat on his side, Brady managed 8.3 yards per attempt, compared to the measly 6.8 that he scored in his final year as a Patriot.

For reference, that ranked sixth lowest in the league in 2019.

Some may say that the numbers come from putting together a “Tom Friendly” system, making use of short routes and throws to a committee of running backs to make up for his lack of physical gifts in the deep passing game.

It seems more likely however, knowing what Bill Belichik is best at, that the team instead chose to go death by a thousand papercuts based on the lack of deep threat that the roster offered last year.

The comings and goings of Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon showed glimpses of what Brady could still give you down the field, but a serious lack of over-the-top weapons hurt any chance the Patriots had of getting back to their own deep-ball system.


Compromising is Key

The answer to making this combination of styles work, is of course going to be some compromising and some progression.

With both Tom Brady and now Rob Gronkowski in Tampa, Arians has all the blueprints to making the most out of Brady’s mental and physical skillsets by including the best that the Patriots system has to offer.

Rob Gronkowski: Tom Brady should 'test out the market' in free agency
Maddie Meyer / Getty

A potential combination of the deadly air attack of Bruce Arians and the suffocating high percentage throws of Tom Brady is rather a terrifying prospect for any defence, and one that will likely catch out many teams this coming year.

And it seems as though these discussions are already in full swing, with the Buccaneers QB coach Clyde Christensen telling the Athletic that: “”I think what we’ll see here (in Tampa Bay) is Bruce’s offense with a Brady influence”

He also went on to say that Brady’s desire to do what is needed to win has already been noticeable.

“We did some good things last year. Tom has been terrific as far as saying, ‘Just tell me what you want to do’.

“He’ll make it better. That’s what the great ones do. He’ll have some great ideas so we’re anxious to get his take on things.”

Clyde Christensen – Buccaneers QB Coach

As fans, all of us are excited to see what the offensive scheme will look like, but the main takeaway should be that Brady can definitely still make all the throws and do so as accurately as any player Bruce Arians has had since he worked with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis when he’s asked to.

However this experiment goes between two of the greats in their respective fields, the marriage between Arians and Brady will be one of the major news stories all year long.

And we can’t wait.

Player Pro Files – Jameis Winston

Written by Andy Moore ( @AJMoore21 )

Going into last season, the end appeared to be approaching for Jameis Winston in Tampa. Suspended for three games, with growing concerns about his decision making, the former Heisman Trophy winner had a lot to prove.

What had started out with so much promise (a Pro-Bowl call up and Offensive Rookie of the Year honours in 2015) was beginning to bottom out fast. Despite the work of the Buccaneers Front Office to surround him with receiving threats, Winston found it all too easy to put the ball in the hands of the opposite defensive backs (44 times in his first three seasons).

These accuracy woes clearly left a scar on former Head Coach, Dirk Koetter, who recently remarked that he had taken Matt Ryan’s accuracy for granted during his first spell as the Falcons Offensive Coach.

It’s fair to say that this concern had a vocal section of the Buccs fan base calling for change.

Well, change has come on the west coast of Florida, Koetter and his staff were shown the door and everyone’s favourite All or Nothing star, Bruce Arians, was brought in to steer the ship. So where does that leave Jameis going into the final year of his rookie deal?

The Coach

It’s clear that Winston was a huge draw for Arians, one of the very first things he said on taking this job was, ‘The whole thing is going to be built around him (Winston).’ Adding, ‘I think he can win it all, he has the intelligence, the toughness… to lead a team.’ High praise to heap on a QB before a single team training session together.

The pedigree Arians brings is undoubted, under his stewardship Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethilsberger have all gone to pro-bowls, with the latter winning two super bowls in the progress. A former quarterback himself, Arians prides himself on building meaningful relationships with and bringing the best out of his signal callers, so much so that he’s literally written a book on it.

If ever we needed an example of his work we need look no further that Carson Palmer in Arizona. Prior to 2013, Palmer had largely failed to live up his status as the first overall pick, he had bounced from Cincinnati to Oakland and finally arrived in Arizona, ten years into his career, the same summer as Arians. The improvement in his game was immediately apparent, Palmer enjoyed his then best season as a pro, passing for 4274 yards and leading the Cardinals to a 10-6 record. The best was still to come, a 13-3 record in 2015 took Arizona tantalisingly close to a Super Bowl and Palmer himself to the Pro-Bowl for the first time in 9 years with 4671 yards and 35 TDs.

All this gives the inkling that Arians knows what he is doing. Indeed, he’s already put on record that he thinks Jameis simply needs to slightly adjust some of the mechanics and we’ll see a big difference in his play.

Coach and player already have a good relationship as well, in Middle School Winston attended QB camps run by Arians and his son, with the coach inspiring the ambitious youngster to set himself the goal of reaching a Super Bowl.

Perhaps most importantly, the offense that Arians runs just seems like a natural fit for Winston. Based on aggression and risk taking, the go to play in Arians’ arsenal is the downfield shot, something that the Buccs sometimes seemed nervous to call under Koetter’s stewardship. This clearly plays to Jameis’ strengths, with his arm power and ability to escape pressure in the pocket amongst the best in the league.

It’s exciting to see a coach so enthused by his own player, and it feels like the chemistry is already bubbling between Winston and Arians, if they can improve the consistency of play then surely the sky is the limit… which brings us to:

The Player

Jameis himself must know this is a make or break season. Come in red hot and ready to play and he scores himself a smoking contract extension and a year-round ticket to Disney, just up the road. However, throw a few ill placed picks in the first couple of games and the pressure to dump him at the end of the year will only ramp up.

That being said, it’s easily arguable that Winston developed significantly at the end of the 2018 campaign. After coming in for a rather dismal performance to replace interim starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick, in game four at Chicago, Winston gave a blistering 395 yard, 4 TD performance in Atlanta in week five. But it’s the last six games of the season we should really look at, in those games he only threw three interceptions, with two of those on do or die Hail Mary shots. It was a noticeable improvement, and the Bucs were unlucky to go down in a few of those games by close margins.

If Arians can tweak the issues he saw in his QB’s mechanics then the evidence suggests we could be about to see some fireworks in the NFC South.

Of course, it’s vitally important that there are no more off the field incidents as well. The suspension Winston served last year came after allegations were made that he groped an uber driver on a night out, all the more worrying after sexual assault claims followed him from FSU. Although not charged in either incident, these are both clear red flags on his record and it’s easy to see how one more incident will see the end of Tampa’s relationship with their QB1.

The work effort of any NFL player is of course vital, even more so in recent years, with every Instagram story, Twitter post or interview scrutinised with a fine-tooth comb for a speck of juicy gossip. And it appears Winston is a strong example to his teammates in that regard, with his new Head Coach praising him for being ‘first in, last out’ in recent weeks. If he keeps that attitude up it’ll clearly inspire those around him.

The Supporting Cast

On any given Sunday last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could line up with any of Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries, OJ Howard and Cameron Brate as receiving options. It’s not hard to see why people were excited about the power of that offense.

Now, a year later they’ve lost Jackson and Humphries, with Godwin really stepping into the WR2 position just as Jameis started to perform at the end of the 2018 campaign. Adding only Scott Miller in the 6th round of this year’s draft might seem like a risk, but Tampa never seem to struggle when uncovering young receiving talent.

Alongside the WRs and TEs, Winston has another potential gem in Ronald Jones to work with. It’d be easy to write Jones off already after he barely made it onto the field in 2018, but all the noise coming out of OTAs so far suggest that he’s set for a much bigger role in the offense this year. That could help Winston no end, with Koetter choosing to abandon the run game all to often last year, exposing Winston to deeper defensive sets and with them more opportunities to throw a pick.

Arians has also emphasised improvement on the other side of the ball, with former Jets Head Coach, Todd Bowles brought into to improve one of the NFL’s most haphazard defences. The recent addition of Ndamukong Suh and a stack of defensive talent, including Devin White, in the draft will undoubtedly make Bowles’ job easier. This will also help Winston, who all too often throughout his Tampa career has been forced to get involved in a shootout due to other teams racking up the score.

I’m all too aware that the above is a very positive take on Winston’s surroundings as he enters his contract year, but I think the Buccaneers staff realise that their own success is heavily intertwined with his. That’s why one of the criteria they looked for in candidates was a willingness to take Winston forward, and why General Manager, Jason Licht, chose to make the last gasp decision to rid the organisation of Koetter before Jameis entered this all important season.

If, and it’s a big if with all the talent in the NFC South, all the stars align, I’m going to stick my head out and say Jameis Winston finishes the year in the top three NFL QBs for passing yardage and TDs thrown, and he takes the Buccs to at least a 10-6 record for the first time since 2010.

Pick It Apart; Devin White

Pick it Apart!

The Draft is in the books and the dust has settled. But how well did your team do in the first round?

We are taking a look back at every selection in the first round and giving you the lowdown on the pick; Was it a reach? Was it a steal? We’ll tell you and give you the impact for fantasy football….

Pick: #5

Player:  Devin White

Drafted by: Tampa Bay Bucs

Grade: A-

Analysis:

You know the saying; Grass is green, the sky is blue and Devin White to the Bucs.

Everyone and his dog had Devin White mocked to Tampa Bay and that’s how it played out.

It was obvious considering Kwon Alexander had departed for pastures new.

The linebacker from LSU was a running back convert from High School (over 5000 yards and 80 TDs!) and because of that is a physical, hard hitting guy. Tampa are getting a competitive, fast and quick to diagnose player who will undoubtedly have a great NFL career. A sub  4.5 40 yard dash (99th %ile), 39 ½“ vertical jump (93rd %ile) were his combine highlights and throughout the draft process he was compared with Devin Bush who funnily enough was his closest comparison on Mockdraftable.

He has multiple years of production, earning the Butkus award as a Junior (top accolade for best linebacker in the country), a first team All-SEC pick and led the Tigers with 123 tackles (12 for a loss) along with 3 forced fumbles, 6 pass deflections and 3 sacks.

His knocks are his lack of quick play diagnosis, instincts are not as good as perhaps a Devin Bush but his athleticism and playmaking ability mean his talents will transfer easily in today’s modern NFL.

He will be a force to be reckoned with but he’ll need to be with Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in the same division.

Fantasy Football Impact:

Similar to the guys before, you can’t really give too much fantasy impact on the defensive player (unless you are an IDP nut, which I am not), but I would envisage that White should be amongst it for the Tampa Bay tackle leaders. A Tampa Bay team that were pretty porous last year get an immediate upgrade here but I still cant be swayed to take a Tampa Bay defence….

Where Do They Go From Here; Buccaneers

After our divisional season review podcasts, we are now looking to the future and asking where each franchise goes from here. We put ourselves in the chair of being GM or the owner and going over what moves we would make in order to win a Superbowl, make the playoffs or just regain some pride…

Today we take a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Don’t forget to check out the NFC North podcast where we talked to Murf from 5yardrush and Tom from Head On A Swivel podcasts and got their thoughts on the team!

How Did Last Season Go?

Last season had more ups and downs than the Big Dipper at Blackpool. Jameis Winston started the season with a 3 game ban due to being Uber silly (see what I did there?) so Ryan Fitzmagic lived once again. They stunned the Saints in week 1 and the Eagles in Week 2 and arguably could’ve been 3-0 with their late surge vs the Steelers not quite getting them over the line. After that it was like riding a horse at a fairground at the QB position with Winston and Fitzpatrick chopping and changing on a nearly weekly basis which starting in GW4 when getting blown out of the water by the Chicago Bears.

After beating Cleveland in OT and having a 3-3 record, the Bucs went 2-8 the rest of the way.

The Bucs finished with the most passing yards in the NFL (3rd in total yards) but also the worst defence in terms of points given up. Tampa Bay games last year were not boring.

At the skills positions, Mike Evans surpassed 1500 receiving yards, breaking some Tampa Bay and NFL records along the way. Career high in Yards, Yards per rec, yards per game, catch % saw Evans go to his 2nd Pro Bowl.

The backfield was the total opposite in terms of production with 2nd round pick Ronald Jones struggling to even get on the field.

Housekeeping

The Buccaneers have the number 5 pick in the 1st round of the 2019 draft along with picks 39 (round 2), 70 (3), 107(4), 145(5) and 215(7).

The Bucs are not wealthy in terms of salary cap at this precise moment being bottom of the pile with a smidge over $2m cap space.

Outgoings

Dirk Koetter has left after a puzzling season at the HC position.

Following him out the exit door is WR speedster DeSean Jackson who goes back home to Philly and one of the most reliable slot receivers in Adam Humphries snubbed New England for Tennessee.

On defence, Kwon Alexander has changed Tampa Bay for the Bay area and San Francisco and Vinny Curry didn’t work out.

Finally, Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be sprinkling his magic anymore as he goes to Miami.

Incomings

Bruce Arians replaces Dirk Koetter but not many other names of note to fill the holes.

Linebacker Shaquil Barrett, Safeties Kentrell Brice and Deone Bucannon along with unloved Cleveland and Baltimore cast-off WR Breshard Perriman.

Outlook for Next Year

Bruce Arians will ruffle the feathers in Tampa and raise the level of all the players there. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens with the backfield as Peyton Barber and the aforementioned Ronald Jones do not strike fears into anyone’s eyes. Furthermore, Arians would’ve been used to a 3 down back like David Johnson so I expect moves to be made (not for David Johnson however).

The success of Tampa will hinge on how much Arians can get out of QB Jameis Winston who is in the final year of his contract. They will not be afforded the time to transition over into the Arians offence judging by how competitive the division is going to be.

Prediction

The Bucs had my money for a playoff push last year, they wont have it again this season. I think it’ll be a push to say they’ll have a winning record but if Arians works his magic, Winston steps up and the defence is not too porous then who knows. They haven’t got the toughest of schedules outside of their division, with the NFC South being paired with the NFC West, AFC South and the Lions and Giants.

They’ll get to around 7-9 in my opinion.

Fantasy Football

Jameis Winston – double digit round pick – potential QB1 – *SLEEPER ALERT*

Peyton Barber – 7th Round – high RB3/ low RB2

Ronald Jones – undrafted / waiver wire fodder

Mike Evans – 2nd Round pick – WR1

Chris Godwin – 6th Round pick – WR2 ceiling – *BREAKOUT CANDIDATE*

OJ Howard –  8th Round pick – Mid-Low TE1