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Brady still finding ways to improve

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FOXBOUROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady has four Super Bowl rings, a super model wife and may just be the best quarterback in the history of football, a resume he’s impressively adding to at the age of 38.

The New England quarterback oversees the Patriots’ No. 1 scoring offense and No. 2 passing attack, having thrown 20 touchdowns and just one interception for a 115.8 passer rating.

But while Brady’s team’s record is a perfect 7-0, the quarterback is always trying to improve his own game and the offense he leads.

In that regard he’s added some mobility to his repertoire in the last couple years, work that’s paid off on the game field with some runs and throws on the run.

Maybe the one area of TB12’s game that’s never really been at the highest level – except maybe when he was paired with a resurgent Randy Moss – is his deep ball. Even in a year when Brady is averaging an impressive 8.34 yards per attempt and has 10 completions of 30 yards or longer, the quarterback laments missed chances he’s had for big plays down the field in the passing game.

“We’ve talked about that a lot over the last couple of years, trying to make plays more vertically into the defense, and I think we do a good job obviously horizontally, all the way from behind the line of scrimmage to the goal line,” Brady admitted. “I think that’s – the best offenses really can challenge you in a lot of ways. So certainly getting the ball down the field is, it’s a great way to, it’s great to have those 12- and- 13 play drives, but it’s great to score in one play or two plays also.”

That’s what the Patriots did back in 2007 when Moss was the biggest target on the team. Now, that role goes to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. While Gronkowski is responsible for six of Brady’s 10 longest completions this fall, including three over 40 yards that are three of his top four longest plays, it’s not the same type of deep passing game that a Moss-like outside threat can present.

Brady knew regardless of how good a throw he made deep to Moss, it was likely the future Hall of Fame receiver would make the best of it.

“It’s a trust, it’s a quarterback-receiver trust relationship, you know, trying to put the ball where our guy can make a play on it and believing that our guy’s not going to allow them to make a play,” Brady said.

As the Patriots work to improve on an already impressive aerial attack and Brady works to make the deep ball a more productive weapon, the quarterback knows that finding his big tight end down the seam can be an equally devastating blow to a defense.

“Gronk running down the seam, he’s such a big target. I think he’s got a great catch radius. He’s got great speed. I don’t know what he was timed when he came out of college. But he gives great body language when he runs, and I can really tell when he really starts to accelerate and he feels like he can run by the guy that is on him,” Brady said, acknowledging that Gronkowski, like Moss, allows the quarterback some room for error.

“And even the throw I made the other night to him, it wasn’t even really a great throw, but because he was by him so far, he was able to adjust. It makes it a tough play on the defender because the guy is running so hard to catch up, and then you throw it a little bit behind Gronk and the guy is really out of control playing him. So he’s just a big target running down the field. [He’s] a little different than Julian [Edelman] and Danny [Amendola] who are a little smaller stature. But Gronk is just a big target, so he makes it easy on me.”

Which in turn makes life very hard on opposing defenses each week as the Patriots once again march toward a potential undefeated season and maybe altering a few pages in various offensive record books.

But Brady is never satisfied and that, along with the impressive talents that he and his teammates bring to the field, might be the most difficult thing opponents have to deal with each week.

SERIES HISTORY: It is the 10th regular season meeting. Redskins lead series, 6-3. The Patriots won the first-ever game against Washington in 1972 and each of the last two meetings, but from 1978 through 2003, the Redskins had a six-game winning streak. The Redskins last victory, in September 2003, was notable in that it was New England’s last loss preceding a 21-game winning streak, including 15-straight through a Super Bowl XXXVIII victory. Bill Belichick’s team, also then 7-0, blew out Joe Gibbs’ Skins 52-7 to improve 8-0 on the way to the perfect regular season in 2007.

GAME PLAN: The Patriots, first and foremost, are a passing team. New England has nearly a two-to-one ratio of passes to runs this season, with 289 attempts (as well as 18 times sacked) compared to 154 rushes. But there are times when a defensive deficiency on the other side of the ball pushes Tom Brady and company to balance things out. That was the case last week in a win over the Dolphins and could very well be a part of the plan against a Redskins team that ranks 30th in run defense, allowing 4.9 yards per carry and nearly 130 yards a game on the ground. So while Brady will still attack the back end of Washington’s defense, look for both Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount to do some damage on the ground. As long has Brady gets the protection and very little time he needs to throw, he’ll also spread the ball through the air to his usual targets as Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and others take it to yet another opponent spread too thin by New England’s weapons.

Defensively the Patriots initial focus will be to stop the run and make Kirk Cousins go to the air more often than he and his coaches would prefer. New England’s run defense is now ranked No. 7 in the NFL after impressive dominations of the Jets (Chris Ivory) and Dolphins (Lamar Miller). Alfred Morris is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, so this is another matchup that Dont’a Hightower and Company have a chance to have a lot of success with. After that is about tackling and keeping the returning Desean Jackson from making big, game-changing plays. Without Jackson through seven games, Washington has had one of the most impotent passing games in the league, with Cousins averaging just 6.48 yards per attempt. If the Patriots tackle Cousins’ many short throws and keep Jackson from going off, the Redskins offense may not have much else to turn to, although tight end Jordan Reed is a challenge for Devin McCourty and the Patriots deep rotation of safeties in the middle of the field.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Patriots CB Malcolm Butler vs. Redskins WR Desean Jackson.

Last time these two players met it was in joint practice action in August 2014 in Washington. The then-undrafted rookie Butler struggled with the speedy veteran. Jackson went on to lead the NFL with a 20.9-yard average last fall, while Butler went on to become a Super Bowl hero. Now, Butler is entrenched if not proven as New England’s No. 1 cornerback while Jackson is returning from a hamstring injury that’s kept him from the field since Week 1 and without a catch this season.

–Patriots RDE Chandler Jones vs. Redskins LT Trent Williams.

Williams, according to Bill Belichick’s assessment, is one of the best left tackles in the game today. Jones currently leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks on the season, including a pair in last week’s win over the Dolphins. The fourth-year pass rusher has three games with two or more sacks this fall, while Williams is the top Hog on a line that’s allowed just eight sacks in seven games.


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