Ageless Brady and Patriots pose deep threat for defense
Tom Brady, at age 40, leads the NFL in passing yards through Week 10 for a New England team that ranks first in total offense.
In fact, Raiders cornerback David Amerson said it seems that Brady actually has expanded his game — vertically.
“I think he’s taking more shots down the field,” Amerson said Tuesday. Amerson’s right. Brady, through the Patriots’ first nine games, has attempted 47 passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air downfield, according to Pro Football Focus, third most among NFL quarterbacks. Brady attempted 49 such “deep” throws in his 12 regular-season games last year. Brady throwing 13.7 percent of his passes at least 20 yards would mark his career-high rate for a season since PFF began tracking that data in 2006. And though his 8.2 yards per attempt is identical to last season, Brady’s average target this year has been 9.8 yards downfield (10th in the league, according to Next Gen Stats), compared with 8.6 yards downfield last season (28th).
Part of that reflects New England’s offseason acquisition of receiver Brandin Cooks, who gives Brady a speedy threat on the outside. Cooks led the NFL through Week 9 with 290 receiving yards on passes of 20 or more yards, according to PFF, and he leads the Patriots with an average of 16.3 yards per catch.
Brady tops the league with 2,807 passing yards and is completing 67.3 percent of his passes, the third-highest rate of his 18-year career. On Sunday, he’ll face an Oakland defense that’s allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 71.2 percent of their passes and just let Jay Cutler and a league-worst Miami offense amass 311 yards through the air.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Raiders safety Reggie Nelson said. “You’ve got Brady, who’s going to get them in the right position, in the right play. So we’ve got to do a good job of just taking care of the little things and doing what we’ve got to do to win this game.”
Any hope that cornerback Gareon Conley might be able to return vanished Monday, when the Raiders put their firstround pick on season-ending injured reserve with a shin injury. Amerson has missed the Raiders’ past two games with a foot injury, but sounded optimistic Tuesday on his progress.
“I’m getting better, man,” Amerson said. “It’s getting better. I think it’s trying to just get to that point where I can move comfortably on it, be able to really put force down and get in and out of breaks and stuff like that.”
Oakland played its 27-24 win at Miami on Nov. 5 with three active cornerbacks: TJ Carrie, Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald. Carrie and McDonald were on the field for all 67 defensive snaps — an arrangement that might prove more taxing at high altitude in Mexico City. Amid injuries and lineup changes, Carrie is the lone Oakland cornerback to play at least half the snaps this season.
It won’t be merely the corners pressed into pass coverage Sunday. In New England’s 41-16 rout of Denver on Sunday, Brady targeted a tight end or running back on 20 of 34 throws, completing 16 for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think what separates them is the running backs being able to be route runners,” Amerson said. “They create different matchups with guys in that sense.”
Against a defense that does not have an interception through nine games and is tied for last in the league with 13 sacks, Brady and the Patriots’ offense would appear to have the advantage. Carrie said the Raiders can’t afford to think that way.
“I think that we all put on our shoes the same way, and I think that if you put somebody on a bigger pedestal than what it may seem, then you’re already losing that battle,” Carrie said.
“Of course, we respect the Patriots. But at the same time, they suit up just like we suit up. It’s another game for us to continue to prepare and go out there and execute.”