Looking Into the Perceived Tom Brady Interception Problem

Tom Brady Interception
FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 23: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots reacts during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The 2018 season has been an odd one for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. While he’s still a top-10 quarterback in the league, the 41-year old veteran hasn’t played up to his lofty standards. After throwing two interceptions in Sunday’s 24-12 win over the Buffalo Bills, Brady now has double-digit interceptions for the first time since 2013. However, how real is the Tom Brady interception problem?

Football is the ultimate team sport, and no statistic is truly an individual one. For every passing yard Brady records, someone else records a receiving yard. Because of this, it’s not fair to look at a box score and assume all of Brady’s interceptions are his fault. Has Brady been more careless with the ball, or has he just been a victim of bad luck? To answer this, let’s take a dive through every interception so far in the 2018 season.

Breaking Down the Perceived Tom Brady Interception Problem

Interception One: Week One vs Houston

Brady’s first interception of the season came all the way back in Week One against the Houston Texans. Facing third and six at his own 10, Brady dropped back and looked for James White. Unfortunately for Brady, the ball was tipped at the line, drastically affecting the ball’s trajectory. Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu came away with it at the Patriots 17.

Chalk this one up to bad luck. Deflections happen, and this was just an example of the ball bouncing the wrong way. Can’t really blame Brady for this one.

Verdict: Bad Luck

Watch the highlight at 0:56

Interception Two: Week Three at Detroit

This interception is an interesting case. Near the end of a 26-10 blowout loss to the Detroit Lions, a clearly-frustrated Brady decided to toss up a prayer. Playing with a nonexistent run game, receivers who couldn’t separate, and an offensive line which didn’t give Brady any protection, New England found themselves out of the game by the midpoint of the fourth quarter.

Because of this, a visibly-angry Brady decided to try to force something to happen. Throwing it into double coverage, Brady tried to find a well-covered Phillip Dorsett 43 yards downfield. Instead, he found Darius Slay. While this interception was clearly Brady’s fault, it hardly mattered. New England wasn’t winning this game, and this felt like a throw borne of frustration. Brady wasn’t fooled by a defense, and this mistake doesn’t appear repeatable.

Verdict: Frustration-based low-leverage Brady mistake

Watch the highlight at 8:37

Interception Three: Week Four Vs. Miami

This was the first interception where Brady genuinely got fooled. Facing third and nine, Brady once more looked for Phillip Dorsett in the deeper portion of the field. The pressure got in Brady’s face, forcing an ill-advised throw into tight coverage. Brady took the blame after the game, saying Miami employed a coverage he hadn’t seen in over a decade.

While the Patriots went on to win 38-7, the game was still very much in doubt at the time of this interception. It was only the first quarter, and New England only had a 3-0 lead. This was very much anyone’s game, and this turnover could have proved costly. For the first time all season, Brady made a big mistake which could have affected the Patriots’ chances at winning.

Verdict: Mid-leverage Brady mistake

Watch the highlight at 1:14

Interception Four: Week Four Vs. Miami

Another mistake by Brady on this one. Holding on to a 38-0 lead, Brady faked the handoff to Kenjon Barner while surveying the field. Not able to find anyone, Brady made an ill-advised decision to toss a prayer to Dorsett when interior pressure came into his face. Dorsett was double covered and never stood a chance at hauling in the pass.

Brady should have just taken the sack and lived to fight another down. However, with the Patriots holding a 38-point lead, it’s not like it mattered that much. Make no mistake, this was an error on Brady’s behalf. However, the damage is minimized since it happened long after the game’s outcome was decided.

Verdict: Low-leverage Brady mistake

Watch the highlight at 6:04

Interception Five: Week Five Vs. Indianapolis

This one lies entirely on wide receiver Chris Hogan. Holding a 24-10 lead in the third quarter, Brady targeted Hogan on a quick, short pass to the left flat. Hogan turned around, waited for the ball, and the pass hit him right between the numbers. There wasn’t a defender coming down on him; by all accounts, this should have been a safe, easy throw.

Instead, the pass bounced off Hogan’s hands and into the waiting arms of Matthias Farley. This shows up as a stain on Brady’s record, but there’s nothing the quarterback could have done differently.

Verdict: Entirely Hogan’s fault

Watch the highlight at 6:13

Interception Six: Week Five at Indianapolis

See above, except this time it was Rob Gronkowski. One drive after Hogan gave away a free turnover, Brady and the offense powered into the Colts red zone. Targeting Gronkowski down the seam, Brady threw a pass slightly behind the big tight end. While that may look like a Brady error at first glance, the 41-year old quarterback actually put it there intentionally to shield Gronkowski from an oncoming safety.

Just like Hogan, the ball Gronkowski in both hands. And, just like Hogan, the ball bounced off Gronkowski’s hands and was intercepted by Najee Goode. Once again, there was nothing Brady could have done differently in this situation.

Verdict: Entirely Gronkowski’s fault

Watch the highlight at 7:17

Interception Seven: Week Seven at Chicago

Up until now, it’s been fairly easy to assign blame for the interceptions. However, both Brady and fullback James Develin are responsible for the seventh interception. Facing third and two against a strong Chicago Bears defense, Brady lightly tossed a weak pass to the fullback while taking a hit.

On the one hand, this is a pass that probably shouldn’t have been thrown, to begin with. As a fullback, Develin isn’t the most natural pass catcher in the world. Additionally, he didn’t have much separation when the ball was thrown. Still, the pass somehow made it to Develin, hitting him in both hands. Unfortunately, Adrian Amos stripped the ball from Develin’s arms and knocked it towards Kyle Fuller. Brady probably should’ve taken the sack, but Develin needed to do a better job holding on to the ball.

Verdict: Develin and Brady both at fault

Watch the highlight at 10:29

Interception Eight: Week 13 Vs. Minnesota

Brady went five games between interceptions before turning the ball over against the Minnesota Vikings. Leading 24-10 with 5:28 left in the game, Brady misfired on a short-right pass to Julian Edelman. Edelman beat linebacker Eric Kendricks, but Brady’s pass was simply off the mark and led to an easy interception.

This one is obviously all on Brady. However, like most of Brady’s errors up to this point, it came in a low-leverage situation. While you’d rather not make errors at all, it’s better that they’re coming when the scenario doesn’t really matter.

Verdict: Low-leverage Brady error

Watch the highlight at 9:29

Interception Nine: Week 15 At Pittsburgh

This interception very well could be the ugliest of them all. Trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers by four midway through the fourth quarter, New England had a chance to take the lead inside the Steelers red zone. Instead, Brady made one of the worst throws of his entire career.

Did Brady think he could throw the ball to the sideline? Did he not see Joe Haden? Who knows why he made that throw, but everyone knows the blame with this one lies fully with Brady. This ugly error was compounded by the high-leverage situation in which the mistake was made.

Verdict: High-leverage Brady error

Watch the highlight at 10:12

Interception 10: Week 16 Vs Buffalo

After being at fault for his previous two interceptions, the football gods went back to giving Brady a lot of bad luck. Facing second and seven at the Buffalo 25, Brady dropped back and looked for Rex Burkhead over the middle. The biggest problem was that Burkhead didn’t go to the middle, and instead broke to the flat. This miscommunication led to an easy interception for Lorenzo Alexander.

Looking at the film, there’s no doubt that Burkhead is to blame. Alexander had outside leverage, which naturally invited Burkhead to the middle of the field. Additionally, nobody knows the offense better than Tom Brady. If there’s a communication error, it’s always on the receiver.

Verdict: Burkhead’s fault

Watch the highlight at 3:00

Interception 11: Week 16 Vs Buffalo

In an ugly homage to Week Five against the Colts, Rob Gronkowski dropped another easy pass leading to Brady’s second unforced interception of the night. On the very first play of the second half, Brady dropped back and looked for Gronkowski. The pass hit him perfectly in the hands, but Gronkowski couldn’t corral it. Off the deflection, the ball found its’ way to the hands of cornerback Jordan Poyer. Once again, nothing Brady could do about this one.

Verdict: Gronkowski’s Fault

Watch the highlight at 4:09

The Final Verdict

With one game left on the schedule, Brady has already thrown his most interceptions since 2013. However, the stat sheet doesn’t tell the whole story in this case. There’s no denying that Brady hasn’t played up to his lofty standards this year, but he’s actually taking care of the ball better than his numbers suggest.

Of Brady’s 11 interceptions, four came on easily-catchable drops, while another came on a tipped pass. If you want to dig even deeper, James Develin dropped a difficult pass, but still had the ball hit his hands. This alone takes away half of Brady’s accumulated interceptions.

By my count, Brady has only thrown five interceptions where the quarterback was at fault. Of those five, one was a frustration-based prayer thrown into double coverage late in an already-decided game. That situation isn’t common, so there’s no point worrying about that one.

Of the four remaining interceptions, two came in low-leverage situations. While these errors are obviously not ideal, they’re not actively affecting the game’s outcome. You can live with these types of mistakes.

This leaves only two bad interceptions which came in mid- to high-leverage situations. Over the course of a 15-game sample, you’d take that every single time. Once again, this isn’t to suggest Brady’s playing the best football of his career. He’s not. This is merely to say that Brady’s high interception total is mostly fluke based bad luck, and not a reflection of being careless with the football.

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