The Tennessee Titans would be wise to study every interception QB Tom Brady has thrown this season for cues on what to look for during in-game situations.
New England Patriots QB Tom Brady only has nine seasons of throwing double-digit interceptions, the bulk being in his first six seasons. Since the 2006 season, Brady has only had three seasons in which he has thrown more than 10 interceptions.
He’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career. In 2016, Brady only threw two interceptions, and both occurred in games against the solid defenses of the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens at about the midway point of the year. Brady did miss four games due to suspension last season and could have possibly thrown more, but the numbers are what they are.
The Tennessee Titans face a quarterback whose overall resume is staggering. However, the Titans do not need to concern themselves with a bevy of statistics from seasons past. Instead, the numbers Brady has produced this season must be, and likely are, the focal point.
Titans All-Pro S Kevin Byard, who finished the season tied for first in total interceptions, is aware of Brady’s accolades, but isn’t going into the game intimidated. In fact, some argue he’s displaying a level of confidence and swag one should have when being a top ball-hawk in the NFL.
Byard’s comments should be a reflection of the Titans’ defensive mentality heading into Foxborough Saturday night. The team goal should absolutely be aimed at making the legendary Brady look like a shell of himself.
Why shouldn’t it be?
In one of the cliché theories for generations, a way to make an impression felt is by singling out the biggest and baddest and hitting them square in the mouth. That is exactly what Byard did in his interview.
Bulletin board material or not, Byard wants the world to know his team isn’t afraid of Brady or the Patriots. They can’t be if they want to stand a chance.
For the Titans, whose bulletin board could be littered with quotes of doubt, non-belief and disrespect, the main quote that should be front, centered and in giant bold letters should be the words uttered by their All-Pro safety.
From Start to Finish
At age 40, Brady is defying Father Time. In fact, despite beginning the season with a pair of losses in the first four weeks, his play wasn’t seen as being the issue. Much of the blame shifted to the defensive side of the ball.
In the first 10 weeks, Brady threw just two interceptions. He was becoming more acclimated to WR Brandin Cooks, was benefiting from a healthy TE Rob Gronkowski and experimented with the new tools the Patriots acquired this past offseason. He also kept his familiar weapons fed, and was on pace for another record-breaking season and low interception number finish.
During the latter half of the season, Brady began throwing more interceptions. He threw six picks over the last six weeks, capping it off with a pick-six. His 22 touchdowns and two interceptions, an 11:1 TD:INT ratio, transformed to a 5:3 TD:INT ratio, having thrown 10 just touchdowns in the final six weeks.
RB Dion Lewis recorded three rushing touchdowns in the final three weeks. Super Bowl hero RB James White‘s role has diminished somewhat, and he did not record a single rushing touchdown this season. Free agent acquisition RB Mike Gillislee started hot, but has been a healthy scratch late in the season. Of his five touchdowns, four occurred in the first two weeks.
RB Rex Burkhead became a major point contributor for New England throughout the season. Seven of his eight touchdowns happened fresh off the Patriots’ Week 10 bye week. Burkhead recorded five touchdowns on the ground and three through the air.
A sprained knee has kept him sidelined since New England’s Week 15 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, Burkhead’s rushing score weighed heavily on the 27-24 finish. It cannot be overstated how important Burkhead was in the Patriots offense. If he cannot go, it will be one more point-scoring target Brady will not have at his disposal.
Analyzing the Picks
Below identifies every interception Brady has thrown this season.
Week 5, 1st Quarter, 1st and 10
Brady threw his first interception of the season against Tampa Bay in Week five when targeting WR Chris Hogan over the middle. Brady sailed the pass high. Prior to the pick, Brady’s last pick to have come on the road was during the 2015 season.
Week 6, 2nd Quarter, 2nd and 10
Brady threw his second pick the following week against the division rival New York Jets. He targeted WR Phillip Dorsett deep in double coverage.
Week 12, 2nd Quarter, 3rd and 8
Brady went the next four games without an interception. He tried to connect with WR Danny Amendola over the middle. This interception would be the first of a string of picks over the next five weeks.
Week 13, 2nd Quarter, 3rd and 7
In the 4th quarter, with a commanding 23-3 lead over the Buffalo Bills and under five minutes left in regulation, Brady went to TE Rob Gronkowski and was picked off by rookie DB Tre’Davious White. What ensued following the pick was a frustrated Gronkowski delivering a dangerous blow to White’s head after the whistle, resulting in a one-game suspension the following week.
Week 14, 1st Quarter, 3rd and 10 and 3rd Quarter, 3rd and 16
Brady threw the first of two picks in his primetime battle against the division rival Dolphins in the 1st quarter. DB Xavien Howard intercepted Brady on a deep outside target to WR Brandin Cooks. In the 3rd quarter, Brady would try to go deep down the middle into double coverage and Howard made him pay again.
Week 15, 3rd Quarter, 3rd and 2
In a game pegged as an AFC Championship preview, Brady was intercepted by the Steelers for the first time in 12 years. The pocket collapsed and Brady couldn’t escape the pressure. It appeared he was targeting Gronkowski, who was on the verge of separation. Brady was hit on the throw, which disrupted the timing. The ball fluttered short and LB Vince Williams happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Week 16, 2nd Quarter, 3rd and 7
Another interception over the middle of the field. Brady targeted newly acquired WR Kenny Britt. Buffalo S Jordan Poyer jumped the route. Poyer would then take the interception into the end zone for six points due to the ball having been inside the Patriots’ own 15 yard line, giving the Bills a 10-3 lead following a failed 4th down conversion. It would mark only the 13th pick-six of Brady’s 18 seasons.
What does it mean?
It’s important to recognize that the bulk of Brady’s picks occurred down the stretch. Had the running game not found its groove, it’s uncertain whether or not the Patriots would have totaled the same number of wins. His declining TD:INT ratio suggests the team may have struggled.
Another important aspect to recognize is that six of his eight interceptions happened on third downs. The Patriots have a 40.6 % conversion percentage on third down, ranking 10th in that category.
This bodes well for the Titans, who are a top 10 team in third down situations. The Titans have only allowed 36.4% conversion rate against opposing teams, ranking eighth defensively in third down conversions allowed.
Brady’s picks occurred primarily when going deep and going over the middle. The Patriots love seam routes and the space some teams give up over the middle. Byard encouraged Brady to test the middle of the field, as he believes he has the potential to make a play there. Statistically speaking, he has the highest odds based on Brady’s 2017 numbers.
Six of the eight interceptions took place against division opponents. Despite both the Dolphins and Jets missing the postseason, and acknowledging the fact that it took a miracle in Baltimore to snap the Bills’ postseason drought, the thing each of these teams has in common is their familiarity with Brady.
Division games are always tough and usually the records do not hold as much weight. Facing Brady two times a year gives the Dolphins, Jets and Bills plenty of live reps, plenty of game tape to study of how they dealt with Brady and increases the chances of catching him from time to time. Like the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Tips from the AFC East
Preparation is key. Undoubtedly, the Titans defenders have spent countless hours watching tape on Brady. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau unquestionably is making his defense aware of what the approach is going to be Saturday night. Hands down, the blueprint has been developed and is being ingrained throughout the week.
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How much of the time was dedicated into studying Brady’s games against his division?
The hope should be that some time was allotted for exactly that. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins all rank higher than the Titans in defensive passing categories.
However, since the month of December, the Titans have allowed just nine touchdowns, four of which were to the high-powered Los Angeles Rams offense. Tennessee’s defense did not allow Kansas City into the end zone for the entire second half after giving up 21 first half points, with 14 coming in the opening quarter.
The Titans have the pieces on the defensive front to create similar disruption displayed by the Patriots’ division foes. Offensively, the Titans finally figured out what works and are healthy enough to execute. On paper, the Titans’ talent is better than any AFC East team the Patriots faced; it just took too long for it to come to light.
If both sides of the ball can avoid being a liability for the other, the best of the Titans offense could have finally arrived.
And just when Tennessee needs it the most.
Tennessee’s defense is a prime reason why the team made it into the postseason. They’ll face their toughest task of the season. The Titans offense needs to do its part to take advantage and exploit the areas of deficiency in the Patriots defense. This will allow for the Titans defense to be well-rested and energized, and increase the chances they catch Brady slipping.
It’s the best defense the Titans can play.