The Patriots have three quarterbacks on their payroll as of this writing. All three of those quarterbacks have a win percentage in games they have started that is greater than 75% in games that count (regular and postseason). All three of those quarterbacks have been drafted by the Patriots, and played for no other professional team (actually, as of this writing the Patriots have never started a non-homegrown, non-drafted quarterback in the entire Kraft-owned era. That’s really cool and will never come up in Trivial Pursuit).
These three quarterbacks have all displayed different strengths and weaknesses to their skill sets. As of next Monday, we will hopefully only care about the skill set of one, singular quarterback from then until at least February…so, before that happens (despite how nice it would be to have one more start from to evaluate the second and/or third guys…), let’s take a look at what these guys all bring to the table.
Strengths – He reads pre-snap defenses as well as any quarterback in the history of the league. There are articles online from every season for the past decade-plus in which media members, opposing coaches, general managers, and players all praise (or lament) this fact. If he sees your apparent weakness, he audibles out to the correct play versus the presented defense. His first step reads are just as strong, and when those reads are in lockstep with his pre-snap reads, you’re all but dead to rights. His arm strength on short and intermediate throws, along with pinpoint accuracy and quick release on those throws, is elite in both contemporary and all-time comparisons. This leads to an offense that is built upon the philosophy, as fearless leader Mike Dussault has often referenced, of Death By One Thousand Cuts. When Brady needs to bide some time in the pocket, he does it. His pocket presence is fantastic, along the lines of Dan Marino and any other quarterback ever lauded for their pocket presence. He is likely the greatest QB sneak quarterback of all time (91.3% career first down or touchdown conversion rate on sneaks as of 2015). His touchdown to interception ratio is incredible. He takes a sack or throws the ball away instead of turning the ball over. He has a Michael Jordan/Bill Russell/Kevin Garnett-like fire to his personality that is infectious. He is one of the hardest working players in the league. If he is not the best quarterback in NFL history, he is second. I don’t care about the arguments for or against why he would be 1 or 2, they really don’t matter (the only time being potentially the second best ever at something has hurt anyone’s career is Ryan Lochte. Poor guy). We’ve been lucky to have him so far for 254 starts that count, so we all know these things.
Weaknesses – Brady has never been a deep ball quarterback. He will never be a deep ball quarterback. The closest he ever was to being a deep ball quarterback was in the Randy Moss era…if you are not aware, Randy Moss is the absolute greatest deep ball tracking wide receiver in league history. He hasn’t ever “lost something” in this regard, aside from Randy Moss being traded in 2010. The deep ball was his big weakness before, and continued to be afterwards. I’ll publicly admit that until midseason 2003, I wasn’t sure that I believed in Brady BECAUSE of this hole in his game (the time I officially realized I had converted: comeback + overtime win in week 12 of ’03 at the Texans. They were down 8 with 3:21 to go in a sloppy game and I thought “Brady’s got this”). It is possible that he is too hard on receivers with his expectations of where they should be at all times…though, the ones that flourish, FLOURISH, while the ones that flame out don’t tend to catch on or thrive anywhere else. Though his pocket presence is fantastic, and he has several memorable runs, he is not a mobile quarterback. His throws on the run are NOT strong or incredibly accurate. He seems to have worked on that facet of his game in the past few years, because why wouldn’t he, but it’s still a weakness. He is not going to take off and run in most cases, even on occasion when it looks like he could/should. We’ve been lucky to have him so far for 254 starts that count, so we know (but hate to admit) these things.
Athletic fun-fact – Brady was drafted by the Montreal Expos as a catcher while he was still in high school.
Now, on to the guys that we’ve seen a little less, but hopefully enough of to evaluate fairly…
Strengths – Jimmy has a very quick release. He makes a lot of high percentage completions, because his pre-snap reads seem to be strong. When he checks out of plays, he does so correctly. He seems to make good decisions with the ball, and has yet to throw an interception in 90 career regular season attempts. He seems to adjust his throwing motion well to situations that arise (such as sidearm throws to get around a rushing defensive end/blitzer). He is more evasive than Brady, being tough to bring down and isn’t afraid to take off and run for a first down. When throwing on the run, he has flashed an ability to make plays down the field. According to Mike Lombardi (a former Patriots coaching assistant during 2014-2015 and long time Belichick protege) on The Bill Simmons Podcast before the Miami game in week 2 (lots of good Pats talk, Jimmy specifically around the 24 minute mark), he throws a much better deep ball than Tom has ever displayed (though we haven’t seen it much in regular season games), and shows great behind the scenes leadership qualities, often sitting with the offensive linemen on lunches and having a great time.
Weaknesses – Though Jimmy has a very quick release, he sometimes balances that out by holding the ball for a split second too long, occasionally closing windows on opportunities that would have otherwise been there. Ball placement has cost Jimmy a few percentage points for his completions, though not to a devastating degree (68.9% career completions so far. That’s good). His arm strength isn’t nearly as apparent in short and medium range throws as we’ve been accustomed to seeing for the past 15 years. This isn’t *necessarily* a bad thing, as one of the big differences between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning‘s game is that Brady’s throws tend to vary in velocity (from medium-high to VERY-high), whereas Peyton’s tend to be a more consistently medium-high velocity and less “how did he squeeze that ball in there?!” as Brady’s throws occasionally do. If a scheme is fit to this, and Jimmy adjusts his game with more experience to make his in-play decisions faster, the consistent lower velocity throws can become near null and void…however, in the current/Brady-centric Patriots scheme, throw velocity matters. He almost got Julian Edelman killed with a low velocity/late read throw in week 1 vs the Cardinals. This is not the only example of a low velocity, late read throw, but the most glaring to me…and as a result, is a great example of “defenseless receiver”.
Again, if he progresses through his reads faster and makes his decisions quicker, this can become more or less mitigated.
Athletic fun-fact – Jimmy was a high school baseball pitcher before he was ever a quarterback, and didn’t play QB at all until his junior year of high school, initially playing runningback until coaches disovered how well he could throw.
Before we get into his strengths and weaknesses, we have to discuss that Jacoby Brissett has seen very limited action. I’m excited to see him this Sunday (if he’s the starter) against the Bills, because I’d love to see him with a full week of preparation as a starting quarterback in the Patriots offense, and actually being able to run the offense while featuring his strengths, instead of running an offense specifically catered to his strengths. Being thrust into action as a rookie third stringer in week 2, then starting his second game 4 days later is tough and doesn’t allow for any real acclimation to a game plan or building rapport with your starting receivers.
Strengths – Jacoby Brissett’s passes come in hot. His arm strength on most throws that exist in the Patriots system is seemingly fantastic. He is evasive and hard to bring down. He is able to make defenders miss in the open field when he runs with the ball. He is accurate with his throws. His decision makes has so far been strong enough to not cause any turnovers. He showed great leadership skills and team support throughout his collegiate playing days, which could have already transfered over to his professional career
Weaknesses – Though his passes come in hot, it’s hard to currently decipher if some of them come in TOO hot, with not enough touch, or if it’s simply that the lack of rapport with the receivers has them caught off guard with how hard some of the passes come in, as there have been quite a few drops on his short passes. He hasn’t turned the ball over, but the offense has been “high-low read on one side of the field, take off and run if nothing is there”, so while we can celebrate 1.5 games with no interceptions in a 4 day span, we don’t know how well he can read a defense yet. As such, this is not necessarily a standard weakness, per say, but it is currently an unknown quanitity which you cannot sell as a strength. In the only instance of an attempt at a “bomb” attempt (to Chris Hogan last Thursday), he overthrew the receiver but also had a very high arc that is more typical of a collegiate quarterback than a professional quarterback. His delivery/throwing form is the slowest of the three quarterbacks, but a year or so with professional coaching should clean that up, though he’s no Ryan Mallett.
Athletic fun-fact – Jacoby Brissett played basketball in high school and was a star point guard, getting recruited by D1 programs such as Miami, South Carolina, Xavier, and Clemson before officially deciding on football.
Three home-grown talents. Three very different stages of their career. One, perhaps two of them have a chance to show us what they’ve got one more time this Sunday, and hopefully the third of them takes the reigns back on Monday (Tuesday? I’m not sure how the NFL counts things, ask Josh Gordon) to eventually lead the Patriots where they need to go: Houston in Feburary (followed by Disney World).
Until then, we’re on to Buffalo.