Part 8 in a 10-part series examining key storylines leading into Patriots' training camp...
The question: Can Tom Brady improve on his 2010 MVP campaign?
Three factors: Players around him; improving the scheme; winning in the postseason.
Finding the answer: To answer this question, it almost depends on what your criteria is.
If you want your quarterback to make the team better than it should be, to be a most valuable player, it will be hard for Brady to top his 2010 season. It may have been his finest performance, before or since.
Not only was he covering for a defense that had trouble getting off the field when it wasn’t generating turnovers, he was playing with personnel that was young, in flux or both.
Brady started the season with Randy Moss as his most dangerous weapon. Moss was traded, old hand Deion Branch was brought back, and the offensive concept changed a quarter of the way through the season to a short, controlled passing attack that Brady orchestrated to near perfection.
Brady lost his most reliable player when running back Kevin Faulk went down to injury, and the Patriots wound up using two undrafted running backs in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, the later of whom was claimed off the Jets’ scrapheap.
Brady threw to not one but two rookie tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both of whom exceeded expectations.
And at receiver, Brady also dealt with having Wes Welker not fully recovered from knee injury, and Brandon Tate being inconsistent and not able to provide a constant deep threat after Moss departed.
Oh, and Brady’s best offensive lineman, Logan Mankins, didn’t play until halfway through the season.
Most valuable? Yeah, Brady had that covered. Just a bit.
If you want your quarterback to be a stat machine, Brady took care of that as well – to a point. By being limited vertically, Brady was never going to approach Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in some categories, namely yards and completion percentage. But Brady did lead the league in touchdowns, and threw a ridiculously low four interceptions. If there was a category for making the game look easy, Brady would have taken the top spot without peer. He went long stretches where he didn’t even come close to making a bad decision.
And if you’re looking for a winner, Brady led the league in wins as well, with 14.
That leads us into how Brady can be better this season: winning in the postseason. And that actually has little to do with him. We’re not going to sit here and say Brady has been the reason why the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since the ’07 AFC Championship game. That would be ridiculous.
He’s not going to reclaim that hump unless the people around him are better, including the coaches, who saw their team dominated early in the past two playoff losses to the Ravens and the Jets. The team simply has to start better, and crisper.
Someone is going to have to develop into a legitimate deep threat, or else all other capable defenses – and there aren’t many – are going to copy the Jets’ blueprint of covering tight short, mixing up the coverages, and playing physical all over the field. Sounds familiar.
All the returning skill players are going to need to be better. If you’re not improving in this league, you’re going backwards.
The offensive line, especially, is going to need to do a better job. They have not shown well in the postseason dating back to the ’07 Super Bowl for whatever reason. That has to change.
And a young defense is going to have to figure out a way to grind out series without the aid of a big early lead, or turnovers, which become scarce in the playoffs. A pass rush would certainly help that, as would a more stout rushing defense against the more physical teams.
If the Patriots can do those things then, yes, Brady can get better in the one area he has been lacking, and the only thing that truly matters for a quarterback of his stature: winning playoff games and Super Bowls.