Five Reasons 2014 Will Be A Comeback Year For The Patriots' Tom Brady

Five Reasons 2014 Will Be A Comeback Year For The Patriots' Tom Brady

Steve Balestrieri
June 26, 2014 at 09:00am ET

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski among absentees at Patriots practice
Bill Belichick feels late improvement an output of full season's work
Stephen Gostkowski earns AFC special teams player of the week
Buckley: Patriots are clearly the best team, and that's a little boring
Patriots notebook: Robert Kraft thankful for team's recent run

Tom Brady is looking to rebound in a big way in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

Tom Brady is at the crossroads in 2014 for the New England Patriots. The soon-to-be 37 year old quarterback is facing questions about his ability for the first time since taking over the starting job for the Pats in 2001.

Brady is a sure bet first ballot Hall of Famer when he finally decides to hang up his cleats for good, but after a rough 2013, many are stating that he no longer ranks among the elite of the NFL quarterbacks. They believe that he’s in decline and will only slide further as Father Time catches up to him.

There is no doubt that Brady suffered his worst statistical season in many years in 2013. But how much was on him and how much was due to factors outside of his play? Brady’s numbers last season passing were 380 for 628, good for only 60.8 percent which his far below his normal percentage. But he did pass for 4343 yards and 25 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions.

He had issues to be sure, with his accuracy, his decision making and his movement in the pocket. All of which begin to show in quarterbacks at his age, but there were many other important factors that came to bear as well.

Losses in 2013 Too Big To Overcome: Gone in the off-season were Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, free agents who signed respectively in Denver and San Diego. Brandon Lloyd was released and made a career change to an actor and was making zombie films.

Aaron Hernandez was arrested in June and is currently still in jail awaiting murder charges for not only the Odin Lloyd homicide, but a double murder committed in 2012 just prior to him signing his long-term extension.

Rob Gronkowski had numerous off-season surgeries on his broken forearm. He subsequently needed back surgery in June that held him out for the first six games of the regular season.

So starting the season in 2013, Brady was missing targets totaling 338 receptions for 3984 yards and 30 touchdowns the year prior. Worse, two of the targets that were supposed to take a lot of pressure off of his revamped and young wide receiver core, running back Shane Vereen and wide receiver Danny Amendola, both went down with injuries in Week 1.

While both came up big in the Patriots opener, their injuries were a huge blow to Brady’s already stretched-thin receiving crew. Help was found in the place of Julian Edelman, who turned in a career season of 105 receptions for 1056 yards and six touchdowns.

Once Gronkowski returned the offense took off. Brady’s completion percentage returned to levels more around his norm and the Patriots were scoring at a rate even higher than Denver. After Gronkowski went down against Cleveland with a season-ending ACL injury, the offense once again had issues, especially in the red-zone. Rookie wide outs Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce all struggled at times with the playbook and injuries to themselves.

As a result in the AFC championship game in Denver, Brady was throwing passes to Austin Collie, Matthew Slater and tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan. While the roster wasn’t what was needed to win in Denver or beyond, Brady did have his share of issues during the season, making some wrong reads and suffered from some poor throws as well. Was the 2013 season just an anomaly due to outside factors or has Brady truly slipped and is no longer and elite quarterback?

We tend to disagree that Brady is no longer a Top 5 QB here and we’ll spell it out further as we lay out the reasons why we think Brady will rebound in a big way in 2014:

Darrelle Revis is the centerpiece in a revamped Patriots defense in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

#5. An Improved Defense Takes Pressure Off: The Patriots made some changes in personnel in 2014 but none of them were bigger than the free agent signings of CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. With the signing of top corner Aqib Talib by the Denver Broncos, the Patriots not only addressed their need once, but twice, upgrading the roster in a big way.

The addition of those two allows Bill Belichick to play much freer and aggressive with the defense. That and the return to health of Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, as well as free agent addition Will Smith and 1st round draft pick Dominique Easley, will make the New England defense much more effective.

At the end of the season linebacker Jamie Collins was thrust in a starting role and has generated a lot of excitement, being able to cover or blitz off the edge. Much more is expected from him 2014, and from the defense as a whole.

With an improved secondary and interior of the defensive line, the defense should be on the field much less in 2014, taking much of the pressure off of Brady and the offense.

Logan Mankins is healthy and looking to lead a younger Patriots offensive line this season. (USA TODAY Images)

#4. Offensive Line is Healthy And Improved: The Patriots offensive line had an uneven 2013. On one hand Brady did pass for 4343 yards and they did rush for 2278 yards and a 4.4 yard average per attempt. But Brady was sacked 40 times last season and was under duress in too many instances after being taken down only 27 times in 2012.

Worse, once again in the AFC Championship Game, the unit was manhandled by the Denver defense. The running game, so key down the stretch for the Patriots, was non-existent.

The offensive line was supposed to be a strength in 2013, returning all five starters from the 2012 team. Health was an issue with Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly throughout the season and the team lost starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to a broken leg against the Dolphins. Solder missed a game with a concussion and Mankins slid over to left tackle.

Center Ryan Wendell, after a good 2012, took a step back a year later as did Connolly. Swing tackle Will Svitek struggled at times as well. It was known that the Patriots line with Coach Dante Scarnecchia departing after 30+ years needed an infusion of youth and health and they now have that, on both fronts.

With all five starters now healthy, the team dipped three times into the 2014 NFL Draft for offensive lineman and has added C/G Bryan Stork, G Jon Halapio and T Cameron Flemming.

Stork struggled a bit in the spring but should push Wendell for the starter’s job at center. Halapio is a tough guy who played all of 2013 with a torn pectoral muscle and he's possibly the long-term replacement for Mankins. Fleming will be vying for the swing tackle position in camp.

This is a unit that was built exactly to combat it’s opponent’s moves in the division this off-season and got it’s needed influx of youth. On paper, this should be a much better unit than the one that took the field in Denver.

A healthy Shane Vereen with the addition of James White should give Tom Brady plenty of options out of the backfield in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

#3. Running Backs to be a Bigger Factor in the Passing Game: In 2013, with the massive loss of talent, one player that was expected to make a tremendous impact was running back Shane Vereen. Vereen was expected to take over for the departed Danny Woodhead, especially in the third down passing game and add an additional aspect of more speed.

Vereen certainly started out extremely well in Week 1 in Buffalo. He rushed 14 times for 101 yards and added 7 catches for 58 yards but broke his wrist during the game and was lost for the next eight weeks.

He played the rest of the season with a cast on his wrist and it affected his ability to catch the ball. But Vereen still ended up with 47 catches in eight games, good for 427 yards and three touchdowns. Prorating his numbers over a 16 game season, Vereen’s catch total would have been 94 for around 850 yards had he stayed healthy.

In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected James White in the 4th round with the 130th pick. White is built similar to Vereen (5’10,204) and is another good option for the Patriots out of the backfield.

White is very good in pass protection and protecting the football. One of the first questions, when asked by the Boston media, he answered simply by stating, “Ball security is job security.”

White, along with Vereen, could bring the Patriots some intriguing options in the passing game. With a lack of depth at tight end, the Patriots could potentially be running more balanced sets this season while using both in the their “20” personnel package with 2 running backs, no tight ends and three receivers, or in their “21” personnel set with two running backs, one tight end and two receivers, with each giving Brady a viable target out of the backfield. This will place more pressure on the opposing defense as last season LaGarrette Blount didn’t offer much in the way of pass receiving.

With a second year in the system, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins look to take a big leap forward for the Patriots offense. (USA TODAY Images)

#2. 2nd Season in the System Should Aid WRs: As stated earlier Brady started 2013 with a totally revamped WR core. They gained valuable experience and confidence being thrust into starting roles and are ready to expand upon that in 2014.

Julian Edelman entered last season as a question mark. He had always previously been an outstanding punt returner, but one with a lot of health questions. He started last training camp on the sidelines while recovering from off-season surgery. But he finally put it all together and after Danny Amendola’s Week 1 injury became Brady’s go-to guy for the remainder of the year.

Edelman produced career year numbers of 105 receptions, 1056 yards and six touchdowns. He was rewarded with a new contract and has Brady’s trust to make the correct read and do the dirty work over the middle, much like Welker did for so many years.

Danny Amendola was signed to replace Welker in the spring and immediately made good progress building a rapport with Brady. After a very good spring and training camp, he seemed poised for a big season. He had a fantastic game in Buffalo in Week 1, but reportedly tore his groin muscle in that contest.

He missed a few weeks and gutted out the remainder of the season in pain, not being close to 100 percent and lost much of the trust factor he developed with Brady during the summer. Amendola finished with 54 catches, for 633 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Aaron Dobson was drafted to be the Patriots “X” wide receiver and stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. He struggled initially but around mid-season seemed to be getting more comfortable in the offense. Unfortunately a foot injury hobbled him down the stretch which required off-season surgery. Dobson finished with 37 catches, 519 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.

Kenbrell Thompkins came out of nowhere to be the star of the spring and summer of 2013. The undrafted rookie free agent from Cincinnati shined during the summer and quickly became a go-to guy for Tom Brady. But the regular season is a different animal and he too struggled out of the gate. However, Thompkins had respectable rookie numbers with 32 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns. He suffered injuries down the stretch but is healthy now and once again has been shining in the summer Mini-camp and OTAs.

Josh Boyce is a speedy WR/KR from TCU who was expected to compete from the slot, in the “Z” wide receiver role and on special teams. An early foot injury slowed his progress during training camp and he was never able to catch up. Late in the season he flashed some of his potential in games against Cleveland and Miami before a second injury cut short his rookie season. He too has had an impressive spring and looks poised for a bigger role in the passing game in 2014 as well as the primary kick returner.

Rob Gronkowski has been a prolific tight end for New England, healthy in 2014, he should be due for a big season. (USA TODAY Images)

#1. Gronkowski Is Expected Week 1: Outside of Brady, no one is more valuable than Rob Gronkowski in the Patriots offense. He is the proto-typical tight end who is a devastating blocker in the running game, can get the tough yards and move the sticks over the middle and attack vertically down the seam, creating nightmare matchups for defensive coordinators.

In 2013 after numerous surgeries on his broken forearm, he required back surgery in June and it pushed back his already delayed timetable to return and he missed all of the spring workouts, training camp and the first six games of the season.

Once he returned, the Patriots offense and Brady took off, giving Brady the ability to stretch the field down the middle and as a result, the pressure was off of the younger players. As a result, New England started scoring more points than the Broncos record-setting offense.

But Gronkowski suffered a torn ACL against Cleveland, cutting short his 2013 campaign after less than seven games. Still, his numbers for 2013 were 39 catches, 592 yards and four touchdowns.

Working himself back into shape this off-season, Gronk is targeting a Week 1 return against Miami. He’s been a regular, albeit limited, participant in OTAs and Mini-camp. But one encouraging factor was seen at last Wednesday’s workout when he, instead of retreating to the bubble with the other rehabbing players, was seen running sprints on the hill behind the Patriots practice fields.

With a healthy Gronkowski for the start of 2014, Brady should have his biggest and best weapon ready to “bear down” to kick off the season.

With these factors in his corner this season, Tom Brady should have a big comeback in 2014. One thing to remember, since 2006 he’s never had a season other than the 2008 injury shortened year in which he’s finished lower than 7th in QB fantasy points.

In 2013 he started the year by subtracting over 330 catches and nearly 4000 yards of production including 30 touchdown catches from the year before. The fact that he was still able to maneuver the Patriots to the conference championship game is a testament to the greatness that he still possesses. He’s worked hard with his receivers in the off-season and his QB throwing coach, former major league baseball pitcher Tom House, to improve his strength and throwing motion.

Will Tom Brady have a better statistical year in 2014 than last year?

You can take it to the bank.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

THE LATEST FROM PATSFANS.COM: