No matter what Brady has accomplished in his career he’s always had haters trying to say it was all about the “system” in New England. Despite now 7 Super Bowl wins in 10 trips, 3 NFL MVPs, and 3 All-Pro’s he still gets criticized wrongly for playing in a great situation. He elevated the situation in New England and Tampa Bay to become a 7-time champion with four different offensive coordinators along the way. It also needs to be remembered that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was a defensive guy, not an offensive mastermind. Brady was more than just a system guy and is more deserving of being called the GOAT.
First, let’s establish what exactly it means to be a “system QB”. A system quarterback is a quarterback who is reliant on a particular offensive system and/or talent to be successful. Matt Schaub for example was able to quarterback playoff teams because of Gary Kubiak’s offense, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. Schaub was not a good quarterback, however.
Brady again has had four different offensive coordinators in his career and the only thing that was the same was Brady getting the ball out lightning fast to his typically average group of playmakers aside from one strong piece. Early in his career and pre-2007, he didn’t have even the one great offensive piece. He had pieces like Deion Branch, Troy Brown, David Givens, David Patten, Daniel Graham, and Christian Fauria.
A common criticism is the “it’s all short throws” trope, but Brady’s Average Depth of Target (ADOT) is nearly a full yard higher, 8.8, than Drew Brees’ 8.0, and only 0.1 yards shorter than Aaron Rodgers’ 8.9. No one says Rodgers only attempts short passes. Regardless of offensive coordinator and weaponry Brady has always played his game.
Comparing Brady to other greats who don’t get the “system” label is necessary, so let’s compare Brady to Rodgers again. From 2004 to 2020 Brady had produced more EPA/play than Rodgers, 0.243 to 0.236. Brees is next but also behind Brady at 0.224. Russell Wilson is 9th during this timeframe at 0.176 and Brett Favre 14th at 0.118. From 2007-2020 Brady even produced more EPA/play than Peyton Manning, who no one called anything close to a system QB, 0.247 to 0.244. Tom Brady has the highest all-time single-season DYAR and five of the twelve highest all-time spots. Brady also has the second-best single-season DVOA and two of the top twelve. These aren’t feats of a “system QB”. For more comparison to great NFL, quarterbacks check out this article.
One of the reasons for Brady’s success is his ability to process the defense quickly and get the ball where it needs to go in a fast manner. From 2011 to 2020 Brady got the ball out in an average of 2.49 seconds. When a QB can do that it makes it hard for defenses to get pressure and easier on the offensive line in protection. Brady got the ball out lightning fast regardless of coordinator and team, so again, Brady is playing his game and not simply following a system.
If you’re going to criticize Brady for being a system guy or say it was just the coaching, you need to do the same for a couple of other guys. Under the same treatment Brady gets, why shouldn’t Montana be criticized as a system guy for having Bill Walsh and the innovative West Coast offense? Why not criticize Jordan for having Phil Jackson, Pippen, and the great role players around him? Winning takes more than one piece but these three knew how to elevate what was around them to that next level.
At the end of the day, people will think what they want but Brady is not and has not been a system QB. The film and numbers just don’t support that. Brady has won like he has because he is a truly incredible player and he doesn’t deserve the label of “system QB”.