Premier weapons have been at his disposal in Tampa Bay, but one thing missing from Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady this year has been big plays through the air.
Over the last three games, Brady is a mere 1-of-13 on passes of 20 yards or more and the Bucs QB recognizes that this recent trend needs to be addressed.
"It's definitely something we've got to hit," Brady said Friday, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. "Our guys are doing a great job getting down the field and it's my job to find them and hit them. You know, if you don't hit them, they're just long foul balls and we had a few of those last game."
Brady overthrew a wide-open Antonio Brown on a deep post in the first quarter of last Sunday's 46-23 win over the Carolina Panthers. The misfire didn't hinder Brady's day (28-of-39 for 341 yards and three touchdowns) nor did it prevent the Bucs from setting its season-high point total, but the misconnection was a reminder of the team's infrequent success on deep balls.
To that point, Brady's completion rate of 66 percent has improved compared to last year in New England (60.8 percent), but his average of 10.8 yards gained per completion is his lowest since 2002. Through 10 games, Brady has 2,739 yards, 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first season with the Bucs (7-3), but big plays downfield would do wonders for an offense that already averages 29.8 points per game.
Perhaps a string of injuries to the Bucs' high-profile receiving corps could explain the lack of rapport on deep passes. Mike Evans has dealt with nagging ailments all season, Chris Godwin has missed multiple games and Brown took part in only his second game this year after his midseason signing. Games aside, the injuries have burdened the practice time with the 43-year-old QB, not to mention this season comes off the heels of an unprecedented offseason and training camp.
The Bucs host the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night and the offense will be tested against one of the NFL's best defenses.
"Well, it's a top 10 defense in every category," Brady said. "Aaron Donald is as good as there is to probably have ever played in the National Football League on the defensive line. He's an incredible player. Explosive, quick, powerful. It's amazing the production he has even when people are double-teaming him, triple-teaming him. He never lets down. He's a hard-working guy. You can tell football means a lot to him. But he really sparks that whole defense.
"They've got some really good players that maybe some people haven't heard of but they're playing really well. They're fast, they attack, they're aggressive, they're in a good scheme. You don't have a lot of time as a quarterback to sort things out because this D-line is on you so quick."
One of those unheard-of players making a name for himself this year is Rams cornerback Darious Williams, who, alongside Jalen Ramsey, make up one of the league's best CB tandems in 2020. The Rams defense ranks top-5 in the NFL in passing yards (199.7), rushing yards (96.8) and points (18.7) allowed per game so far this season.
On Friday night, the Bucs took part in a nighttime practice ahead of their prime-time home game vs. the Rams. The change of practice schedule is an attempt at mending what have been disappointing performances under the bright lights this season. With the first-place Saints starting a three-game stretch in Week 11 without QB Drew Brees, Brady and the Bucs see an opportunity to overtake New Orleans in the NFC South.
"This is a big game for us," Brady said. "This is as big as it gets on Monday Night Football. This is one for us we've got to go out there and be 100 percent ready to go."