Numbers don’t lie -- and neither does the game film.
That was my first reaction to Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark's remarks that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sometimes "sees ghosts" in the pocket. I've watched games in person where Brady ducks, flinches or slides away from phantom pressure in the pocket. At 35, it happens more and more at the latter stages of Brady's career.
"In 2010, we saw it start with the Jets in the playoffs," Clark explained on ESPN's "NFL Live" this week. “When Tom Brady gets pressure and when you're man-to-man and bumping those guys and making it hard for him to throw, he sees ghosts.
"Even when guys aren't around him, even when he's not about to be sacked, when his clock goes off in his head that the ball should be out, we'll see him duck, we'll see him flinch. When you get Tom Brady doing that, the whole New England Patriots mystique goes away."
The statistics also back Clark's analysis.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Brady’s completion percentage drops from 68.2 percent to 42.3 percent when he holds onto the ball for longer than three seconds. New England is very much a timing and rhythm offense. As Clark mentioned, opponents increase their chances of success by throwing off Brady's timing with his receivers. Brady’s Total Quarterback Rating also falls from a stellar 81.1 to an average 59.7 when he holds the ball four seconds or longer.
You cannot fault Brady for wanting to avoid big hits. Brady has been sacked 59 times the past two seasons, and each year those hits become harder to take. Brady, who just signed a contract extension through 2017, wants to play until he's 40. The only way he accomplishes that goal is by avoiding clean hits in the pocket.
The blueprint is out there to beat Brady. Teams like the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants have consistently beaten New England doing many of the things Clark explained. However, it's much easier said than done for most teams.
Clark and the Steelers will get their chance to make Brady see "ghosts" this upcoming season when Pittsburgh travels to Gillette Stadium to face Brady and the Patriots on November 3.