Brady's passing guru hasn't seen him better
January, 12, 2011
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireQuarterback Tom Brady has thrown 36 touchdown passes and only four interceptions this season.Tom Martinez might've known in the summer what kind of season Tom Brady was about to have.
Martinez is the man who taught Brady how to pass. They've been together for about half of Brady's life, since before his first junior varsity start.
As usual, they got together during the offseason in Southern California to hone Brady's mechanics. Martinez identified a few areas to tweak.
"By the end of it all, I'd never seen him better," Martinez said from his home in Menlo Park, Calif.
"It was hard to stand there and watch it. You've got to shake your head that you're really looking at what you think you are. He was so precise. You go, 'Holy mackerel. He's got to throw some balls away.' It was unbelievably impressive."
Even with that knowledge, Martinez was surprised to see Brady's remarkable season unfold the way it has. The numbers Brady has posted in his MVP-worthy season can't be chalked up merely to refined mechanics.
With a diminished supporting cast that features rookies, castoffs and injury replacements, Brady posted the fifth-highest passer rating in NFL history, led the league in touchdown passes, threw the fewest interceptions and broke records for turnover efficiency.
"To watch him play is like watching Pavarotti," Martinez said. "He's in total command."
The big man who coaches the New York Jets sounds like he's trying to disrupt Brady's virtuosity. Rex Ryan has been belting out news-conference arias in advance of Sunday's playoff game against the Patriots. Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie took a less subtle approach to insulting Brady.
Brady's response: "We're just going to do our talking on the field."
The Patriots have performed impeccably all season. This year's production is more remarkable than what they accomplished in 2007, when they set the NFL record with 589 points and went 18-0 before losing in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots scored 518 points this season, seventh most in league history.
But the season becomes more incredible when you consider New England traded receiver Randy Moss, didn't have Wes Welker at full speed, relied on rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, didn't have Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins for half the season, lost right guard Stephen Neal after eight games and lost right tackle Nick Kaczur in training camp.
"Those two running backs," Martinez said of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, "might not make some of the teams in the league."
And yet Brady made it all work, guiding the Patriots to 14 victories despite a transitional defense that used four rookies in the starting lineup some weeks.
Brady has worked with Martinez since he was 15 years old. Brady's father took him to see Martinez, then head coach at the College of San Mateo, for pointers. Brady became Martinez's star pupil.
Much like a highly sought session musician, Martinez has worked with players on an individual basis but never joined a team. His pre-draft tutelage famously helped JaMarcus Russell turn into the No. 1 overall draft pick. This year, he will work with Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Mississippi's Jeremiah Masoli.
Most amazing about Brady's stat line are his four interceptions, the fewest from any quarterback with at least 300 attempts in NFL history. He hasn't thrown an interception since Week 6, a streak of 335 consecutive attempts.
Martinez chalks up that number to happenstance more than anything else. He claimed it's not necessarily indicative of Brady's excellence.
"That's like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak," Martinez said. "He couldn't do that again if he lived to be 580 years old. There's a series of things that have to happen to keep that kind of a string going. When they all go together, you break the records.
"He could go back and play the season over again and throw 15 interceptions."
From Martinez's perspective, Brady's dominance can't be found in any box score.
"The key to me is that he's in total command both physically and mentally of what he's doing," Martinez said. "If you really study their offense, he's going to the open guy probably 85 percent of the time.
"If you go to the right guy, chances are you're not going to throw interceptions because that's the guy that's got single coverage, or that's the guy that gets open in the zone. He's not throwing into double coverage. He's not forcing balls. He knows who to go to, and he has the mechanics to make the throw."
Martinez also said Brady is thriving with the aggressive offense called by quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien. The Patriots are no longer running what Martinez calls "dead plays," conservative calls that do little more than burn time off the clock.
The Patriots have scored at least 31 points in eight straight games, tying the NFL record held by the 2007 Patriots and 2000 St. Louis Rams.
"What they're doing now is they're constantly attacking, and he's getting them into the correct play," Martinez said. "They don't run many dead plays where you ask: 'What are they running that for?' They're constantly attacking."
Deion Branch was a Patriots receiver from 2002 through 2005 and was traded back Oct. 12. Branch was asked Tuesday what has been the biggest difference he has noticed in Brady and specifically mentioned Brady's deep ball.
"Early in his career, that was a weakness," Martinez said. "But that was such a part of Randy's game that [Brady] had to step his part of it up because Randy was outrunning the throws. That was one of his goals. Because he didn't throw them that often, mechanically they weren't thrown well."
That's one way Moss made Brady a more complete quarterback. When the Patriots traded Moss three games into the season, Martinez figured they would suffer.
"When Randy was gone, I don't think anybody predicted this," Martinez said. "I thought that Randy stretched the defense, which allowed all the other guys to run underneath stuff. With Welker doubled and Moss gone, it was hard to see them throwing it all over the yard."
Any yet Brady has compiled his most extraordinary season.
He'll be the consensus MVP. He'll almost certainly be voted first-team All-Pro for only the second time of his career. His name dots the record books even more.
And none of that will count if Brady doesn't remain in command like he has up until now and win the Super Bowl.
"The funny thing is, no matter what has happened to this point, this is one and done," Martinez said. "Somebody blocks a punt or picks one off and runs it back and all of a sudden you lose and didn't have that good a year.
"You're walking a fine line between being awesome and not getting it done."