Over the past several seasons, the New England Patriots' passing attack has increasingly come to rely on short, quick passes. Tom Brady has never thrown the most accurate deep ball -- it's just not his strength. But what he's able to do better than nearly anyone else in NFL history is diagnose a defense before the snap so that he knows immediately where the ball should go.
That skill allows him to get the ball out and into a playmaker's hands before defenders can react, which puts players like Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and more in position to make hay with yards after the catch.
Through three weeks of the 2015 season, the Patriots have taken the quick game to another level. According to data tracking done by Pro Football Focus, Brady has gotten the ball out in an average of 2.09 seconds over the course of his 133 passes this season, the fastest time since PFF began recording the stat back in 2011. Before 2015, the quickest anyone had averaged before throwing the football was Peyton Manning's 2.24 seconds last season.
The league as a whole has been trending toward quicker passes for a few years now, but it's safe to say Brady has been ahead of the pack and that he has taken things to an all-new extreme this season.
|Time to Throw – Within 2.5 seconds of snap
|Year||% of NFL dropbacks||% of Brady dropbacks|
Brady's 80.58 percent rate of passes within 2.5 seconds of the snap also leads the NFL. It's not only safely ahead of the next-closest quarterback (Philip Rivers at 74.56 percent), but it is also the highest rate in the history of PFF's database. Manning's 2014 rate of 68.1 percent was the previous high for a full season. For what it's worth, five different quarterbacks -- Brady, Rivers, Manning, Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton -- have topped that mark so far this year.
So, why are more and more throws coming out quickly? Well, because they're more efficient, of course. Take a look at the completion percentage numbers for throws within 2.5 seconds of the snap compared to those that come later, for both Brady and the NFL at large.
|Completion % by release time|
|Year||Under 2.5 – NFL
||Under 2.5 – Brady
||2.5 or more – NFL
||2.5 or more – Brady
You'll note that before this season, the split was even wider for Brady than it was for the average NFL quarterback. He has bumped both numbers up to all-time highs for the five-year sample, which has obviously helped the New England offense get off to its blistering start.
It has long been assumed that a steady diet of short, quick passes wasn't enough to win in the NFL because you eventually have to stretch the defense vertically. But the Patriots won the Super Bowl last season with an offense that was heavy on the quick game -- indeed, in the Super Bowl itself, 74.5 percent of Brady's passes came out within 2.5 seconds of the snap as he found Edelman and Shane Vereen on short crosses, quick outs and swing routes over and over again.
While that may have seemed like a Seahawks-specific strategy designed to slow down the pass rush and exploit one of the few weaknesses of Seattle's monster-sized corners (quick-breaking routes tend to give tall defensive backs problems because they can't change directions as quickly as smaller receivers), apparently they saw enough benefit from the strategy to push even farther in that direction this season. New England has never been uncomfortable challenging conventional NFL wisdom, and it seems like the Patriots are set to do that once again this year.