Column: Why Tom Brady is a system quarterback


New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady participates in a drill during practice for the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game against the Atlanta Falcons. Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Houston. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

I will get a lot of heat for what I am about to say regarding a certain New England Patriots’ quarterback. But here it goes. Tom Brady, football hero to so many people in the region, is a system quarterback. I know where all the arguments are going to come from and what they will be about. However, the truth is the legendary QB has benefitted greatly from the system he plays in.

As much as it hurts to say it as a New York Jets’ fan, Brady is one of, the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, if not one of the greatest players. I won’t deny that for one second. He has an innate ability to read the game that so few have had. Peyton Manning and Joe Montana are a few that come to mind, but really Brady may be the best at that. His passing accuracy is among the best, as well. He’s not necessarily Drew Brees with his pinpoint precision, but Brady puts the ball where it needs to be and where his receiver wants it. Again, no denying that. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His rings and his statistics speak for themselves.

However, it has always bothered me that people, especially the most devout Pats fans, deny that Brady is, at least to some degree, a system quarterback. Obviously Brady and New England head coach Bill Belichick have both benefitted from being with one another over the years, but the system that Belichick and his staff have developed makes it significantly easier to run an offense for any given quarterback.

Look at the people who have filled in and backed up Brady in the last several years. Matt Cassel thrived in the Patriots’ offense in 2008. He later got a starting gig with the Kansas City Chiefs once Brady returned from injury and never lived up to his billing. Ryan Mallet showed tons of promise as a rookie out of Arkansas and got a few snaps here and there, looking good in the Pats system, enough to warrant a look from the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens, respectively. He’s done almost nothing of note since. Current backups Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo have had success in their limited time in the spotlight as well, but only time will tell if they are as good elsewhere as they are in the New England offense.

Besides the fact that other quarterbacks, albeit less talented, have had success with the Pats before flailing in another system, it should be important to note why the system works so well and how Brady has capitalized on it. First off, the legend can’t throw deep. Brady is one of the worst in the league over the last few years at throwing passes 15 yards downfield. Admittedly, this season he had much better success with that than in the past. However, outside of an undefeated regular season with Randy Moss – where he went deep several times a game – and this season, Brady is and has almost always been fairly limited with his deep ball.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the system Belichick has put in place thrives on receivers running simple, short routes and getting in the way of defenders so that ultimately somebody will be open for a short gain time and again. Of course Belichick has also experimented with lots of little tactics that make it easier for Brady to succeed, from the five-wide receiver formations of 2007 to the up-tempo offenses of 2011 and 2012. And don’t get me started on all the substitution rules Belichick has tried to wiggle around so his offense can experience a little more success.

Belichick, with his offensive coordinators over the years, has evolved the system year-in, year-out to make the offense work with new receivers and adjust for new personnel. He too will be in the Hall-of-Fame at the end of his career for all his brilliance. And it becomes so clear how much Belichick has influenced the success of his quarterback when you watch the tape and see how the system has limited the shortcomings Brady has.

Again, this is not to say Brady isn’t great, elite, or a Hall of Famer. He still is, and forever will be, all of those things. He has statistical records and the MVP awards to show for it. He’s won four Super Bowls and could very well win another this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. But even if he does win number five, for me there’s no doubt about it: Tom Brady is a system quarterback.

Chris Hanna is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at He tweets @realchrishann

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