By the Saturday of Week 5 a year ago, Tom Brady had yet to be sacked a single time in 2016. Of course, he was suspended the first four games of that season because of his role in Deflategate. But even after he returned, Brady was sacked just 15 times in 12 regular-season starts, including four games in which he was sacked just once and four more where he wasn't sacked at all.
Through five games of the 2017 season, Brady has already gone down 16 times, including five sacks courtesy of the Texans' defense in Week 3. In Thursday's win in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers hit Brady at least 10 times and sacked him on three occasions.
So for all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments about the sorry state of the Patriots' defense, there is no job more important than offensive line's ability to protect the 40-year-old Brady. New England's league-worst defense showed improvement against the Bucs but the offensive line, which came into the game ranked 18th in pass protection, continued to struggle.
Digging deeper, right tackle Marcus Cannon ranks 35th out of 66 offensive tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, and left tackle Nate Solder ranks 51st. Right guard Joe Thuney is 47th out of 73 guards while left guard Shaq Mason is fifth, and Dave Andrews is eighth out of 33 centers.
There are other factors too; the loss of Julian Edelman for the year means that Brady doesn't have his most reliable target. In the previous three seasons, Brady has a 106.9 passer rating when Edelman's on the field. And in the nine games without Edelman, Brady's passer rating dropped to 86.4 -- which is below the league average of 89.5.
With the addition of Brandin Cooks, the Patriots have moved to a more downfield passing attack, which means Brady is in the pocket longer and more vulnerable to the pass rush. But just as the defense made adjustments against the Bucs, expect the offense to do the same with one of the league's best players. Brady is currently on pace to be sacked 51 times,10 more than his previous high, which came in his first season as New England's starter in 2001.
If you're looking for a silver lining, here are two:
1. Brady may have been sacked just 15 times last regular season but he was sacked nine times in three postseason games, including five at the hands of the Falcons in the Super Bowl. As you may recall, Brady led the greatest comeback win in Super Bowl history and earned his fourth Super Bowl MVP award.
2. Despite the alarming uptick in sacks, Brady is still completing 68 percent of his throws and has 11 touchdowns against just one interception. He ranks first in total value among all quarterbacks and is second in value per play, according to Football Outsiders' metrics.