Monday, November 8, 2010

New England Patriots: Has Tom Brady Ever Fully Recovered from His Knee Injury?

AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

No matter how much Bill Belichick preaches that no one individual is greater than the team, Tom Brady is the face of the New England Patriots.

His talent, leadership and determination have led the Pats to three Super Bowl victories, in which he was rewarded the game’s MVP twice. He was the NFL regular season MVP when he led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season.

But has Brady ever really recovered from his ACL and MCL injuries suffered in 2008?

Brady can still play, and New England is still a good team, but is either elite anymore? Sometimes Brady just doesn’t have it—like against Cleveland yesterday—and the team cannot bail him out.

The overall passing stats will have you believe that nothing has really changed. He is on pace to throw 27 touchdowns, right around his season average, and he hasn’t thrown an inordinate amount of interceptions. His passer ratings for the past two seasons are the highest in his career, excluding the magical 2007 season, and his completion percentage is actually higher post-injury than pre-injury.

But there may still be an issue.

Mentally, Brady wasn’t always at his best last year. He looked uncomfortable and timid in the pocket last year, especially early in the season. Brady isn’t as mobile as he used to be, and when defenses send strong pass rushes at him he doesn’t do a good job evading them. Rather, he takes a good beating nowadays. And at 33-years-old, he isn’t getting any younger.

While the numbers may not be as noticeable long term, this season—despite the team’s successful record—his numbers show a significant drop-off.

Brady has not thrown for 300 yards yet this season. In the four games since the bye week, Brady has pass completion percentages under 60 percent in the past three games, and they get lower each week, bottoming out at 52.8 percent this past weekend.

He was exceptionally poor against the Browns. The team was out of sync all game, and while his receivers, namely tight end Rob Gronkowski, dropped a number of balls, Brady was terribly off the mark all game.

There are a lot of factors other than the injury that are causes for concern and make Brady look not as sharp. First, since the bye week this year where a real difference is seen, there is no more Randy Moss. Moss is a future Hall of Famer, and he does make things easier, as far as throwing to him and taking attention and coverage away from other players. But Brady didn’t have Moss early in his career.

The running game is pretty bad, probably the worst it has been in Brady’s entire career, so they can’t alleviate the pressure off of Brady. Injuries and holdouts have weakened the offensive line and they don’t block as well anymore.

All of these reasons allow the defense to crank up the pressure.

As for defense, this Pats defense is not nearly as good as the units of the Super Bowl teams, so they aren’t keeping teams at bay. The way the defense is playing now (since Brady’s injury) they don’t have a good pass rush and the coverage is poor. They allow big plays, a good amount of points and Brady needs to be "on" in order to keep New England in the game.

Maybe it was just a bad game for Brady; it’s tough to be "on" for all 16 games in a regular season.

But something wasn’t right. Defenses are pressuring Brady and he isn’t responding well. He can’t get away from the pressure like he used to and he doesn’t have the help to cover any mistakes or deficiencies in his game.

With such a bad running game and the shaky knee, Brady could get to be more like former Miami Dolphin Dan Marino—a legend, but declining in production towards the end of his career without sufficient help, namely a strong running game to balance out the offense so he doesn’t have to play at the highest level every game.

Is Brady’s knee still an issue? Is it, even slightly, hampering him? Are the team’s weaknesses elsewhere shortening Brady’s career?

One thing for sure is that he will never tell us the whole truth.

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