American football is considered a very complex game, with coaches of the highest order trying to adhere to a principle that was adopted by the U.S. Navy back in the 1960s - KISS.
Keep It Simple, Stupid. Keep it simple, it will get easier.
Right now, Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich is trying to apply that principle to his rookie quarterback Bryce Young and a team that has yet to win a single game.
"When things don't work out, simplify," Reich said.
Fans often follow this principle when discussing football matters, too. Is the team playing poorly? The simplest explanation is that the quarterback is at fault. The team is playing well? The quarterback.
Sometimes it even starts to feel like we're talking about tennis, not American football. And quarterbacks are like Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer. The result is all about them. The only people on the court besides them are the ballboys.
No, coaches' lives are important too, of course, but do you remember what Coach Djokovic's name is?
In the NFL, it's not enough to know the name of a team's head coach. You have to know the name of the coordinators. And, for good measure, what the names of position coaches are. They manage dozens of players. Out of the process of that management and interaction, results are born.
Only it's all very boring. It's always more convenient to personalize success/failure and simplify the perception system. This does not only apply to team sports, overestimation of the role of personality in history is a common thing.
At the current point in the NFL season, we are faced with an interesting paradox. Two statements exist simultaneously:
- Belichick without Brady is nobody. Belichick didn't succeed without Brady, but Brady did without Belichick. As soon as Brady left, the Patriots immediately fell apart.
- Brock Purdy is just a system quarterback. Put anybody else in Kyle Shanahan's system and he'll be just as effective.
These are polar perspectives on the dynamics within the coach/quarterback tandem. Someone has to be responsible for 100% of the results.
You suspect where the truth lies, too, don't you? In the boring and mundane middle.
Belichick could accomplish more without Brady than Brady could without Belichick. They've both been extremely fortunate
Not because Belichick is so awesome, but because Brady might not have had a chance at a professional career without the Patriots.
You can look at what the quarterbacks selected above Brady in that same 2000 draft have accomplished. Look at what quarterbacks selected in the 6th round of the draft usually accomplish. They aren't even guaranteed to make the roster for the season.
Brady, once in training camp, did the best he could - he proved himself to be a reliable, promising backup. Everything else was a fluke for him + the trust of coach Belichick.
Drew Bledsoe, whose injury opened Brady's path to the lineup, wasn't just any veteran. He had led the Patriots to the Super Bowl and was a three-time All-Star. In the golden season of 2001, he replaced Brady during the conference finals against the Pittsburgh Steelers, changed the dynamic of the game and helped the team win.
If Belichick had given Bledsoe back a spot in the starting lineup afterward, no one would have judged him. It would have made as much sense as letting a rookie 6th round pick with very modest stats (18-12 touchdowns to interceptions, 190 passing yards per game) go to the Super Bowl.
For his first three years in the NFL, Brady was a supporting element of the team, a game-manager whose job was not to mess up. In the next three years (2004-2006), he took it a step further, taking over the game more often. Finally, the 2007 season was revolutionary for both his career and the entire league. Brady finally stepped into the elite, a position he would not leave until the end of his career.
But it was all based on the foundation laid by Belichick. It's been said that Brady masked the team's problems in his final years in Foxboro. That's true. But the opposite is also true - during the first dynasty, the Patriots' defense also masked his inexperience. Brady didn't need to try on the Superman cape because saving the Patriots was the defense's job.
Yes, it was general manager Belichick who deprived Brady of any quality receivers near the end of Boston's career. But that same general manager Belichick successfully traded Randy Moss, drafted Rob Gronkowski, found Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, not to mention dozens of absolutely top defenders. You can't highlight one while completely forgetting about the other.
I don't know how many rings Belichick would have won without Brady. It's very possible he wouldn't have won any. But it's even more likely that without Belichick, we wouldn't even know Brady's last name. Talent doesn't make its way everywhere, especially in a league like the NFL. Where was he supposed to blossom, Cleveland? The Jets? Which club did fate even give Brady a chance to be in the starting lineup?
"The Patriots have deteriorated to their current state not because Brady left (that's one reason, but not the key one), but because the entire team has gotten worse. Belichick has lost important assistants, failed to make up for personnel losses, and just seems to have fallen behind the rhythm of the game in terms of offensive recruiting. That's entirely his fault as the man who concentrated maximum power in New England. But Brady, in his fifth decade, wouldn't have made the Patriots a contender like he did before.
Like all deserving quarterbacks who suddenly find themselves on the free agent market, Brady was given the right to pick the next team. There was as much competition for his services as there was for Peyton Manning in 2012 or Aaron Rodgers in 2022. Brady picked a great option, a team that had two Pro Bowler receivers (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) before his arrival, along with a strong defense and a knowledgeable coach. Shaq Barrett made the Pro Bowl in 2019, and in a championship year, Devin White and Lavonte David (Jason Pierre-Paul made the Pro Bowl) were named to the symbolic team.
Again, this in no way diminishes the merits of Brady himself on his new team. But the "the Patriots immediately withered without Brady, and he came to an empty seat and immediately won a cup there" narrative is unfair. If Brady could overcome any circumstance and not be influenced by his surroundings, he would have 14, not 7, rings won, including three in Tampa.
Purdy, like Brady early in his career, is a system quarterback. Why is that perceived as a swear word?
Let's move on to part two of the clash between the image of the coach and the image of the quarterback. Is Brock Purdy's success the genius of the player himself or the schemes of coach Kyle Shanahan?
Why is no one satisfied with a "yes" answer? Yes, it's the genius of the player himself in coaching schemes.
Purdy is fortunate to be on a team with a well-adjusted offense. His job within that offense is to execute correctly and not make mistakes. This, by the way, is a difficult task that many fail to do physically or mentally. One of the main reasons Russell Wilson left Seattle was because he wanted to make more decisions on the field on his own and be less dependent on the will of the offensive coordinator. We've seen the result for a season and a half.
I don't believe that Kyle Shanahan's offense can have flawless play from just about any quarterback. For example, C.J. Beathard, selected four rounds earlier than Purdy, or his first point guard Brian Hoyer didn't look anywhere near as great there.
But at the same time, Matt Ryan under Shanahan won the MVP and helped Atlanta reach the Super Bowl. With no other coordinator has he gotten anywhere near those heights. Jimmy Garoppolo, after being traded from the Patriots (where he was Brady's understudy), went 5-0 over the course of the 2017 season, and with him, the 49ers later reached the Super Bowl.
That being said, Purdy has the best roster of skill players than any of his predecessors. The Christian McCaffrey trade is simply a cheat code that has taken San Francisco's offense to a cosmic level.
Why does all of this count as arguments against Brock Purdy? In order for a quarterback to be considered great, do you have to have him improvise every play, run out of the envelope and throw for luck? And preferably on a bottom-feeding team.
Brett Farve is an example of a successful anti-Brady. He knew little about cover, had a poor grasp of football tactics (he admitted it himself at the end of his career), acted on instinct, and compensated for monstrous mistakes with wow plays. They called them gunslingers. In that case, Brady (especially the early one) and Purdy are surgeons methodically cutting defenses on the operating table. And I assure you, NFL coaches would have preferred surgeons.
Like Brady, Purdy might not have gotten a real shot at any other NFL team. Like Belichick, Shanahan is very fortunate to have gotten his hands on such a talented performer. A success story in team sports - it's amazing that this needs to be spelled out - is made up of the sum of the sum of its parts and favorable circumstances. We are given the opportunity to fantasize about winners apart just because they were together.
Read Also: 10 Facts You Didn't Know About Tom Brady