When it's all said and done, no matter what happens on Sunday against your Houston Texans, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will likely go down as an all-time top-five quarterback. I say top-five because these kinds of debates are always up for interpretation against eras, situations, and biases, such as this writer's bias for the legendary Joe Montana, which puts Brady's ceiling at two for all-time quarterbacks. For the record, I think he could be two in my personal rankings due to how brilliant he is.
Brady's brilliance comes from his versatility. West Coast Offense? Ran it. Spread Vertical Attack? Done it. Two tight end possession control offense? Mastered. Manage the game? With ease. Carry the gameplan on his right arm? Child, please. My intention is not to praise Brady, but merely to paint the picture that Brady has seen and done it all unlike many , many NFL quarterbacks.
Where, oh where, is that chink in the armor? What can defensive coordinator Wade Phillips possibly do to slow Brady? To find that theoretical answer, let's look at the problem facing the Texans' defense.
Brady, in this writer's opinion, is great at reading the defense. I know that isn't exactly revolutionary. Stick with me. We've already talked about how amazing Brady is at reading the blitz. If you don't get there, Brady beats you deep, as we've witnessed, but going deep isn't necessarily his game. His team is built to pick up yards after the catch, so Brady's ability to quickly diagnose the blitz and find the soft spot for his hot read is where I really think he butters his bread.
Look at his statistical split, Brady has 286 completions for 2,673 yards on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage to 10 yards. On those completions, remembering that all passes are thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, Brady's receivers average 9.35 yards per catch. Going to his favorite target, Wes Welker, happened 86 times, compared to his 118 total receptions, within those same yardage breakdowns. How do you defend these short routes against the Blitz-Breaking Brady when Phillips' nature is to blitz five or more rushers? You counter-intuitively blitz the quarterback less.
In this instance, less could be more. The beauty of a 3-4 is that the fourth and fifth pass rushers could come from any of the four linebacker spots. Heck, when a safety blitz is on, which Wade loves to call, then you can really drop multiple linebackers in to fill the zone. You need to get New England guessing on where that fourth rusher will come from as opposed to playing straight man coverage with a blitz of five or more. As we all know, Brady breaks blitzes.
Phillips needs to rely more on the four-man rush, with an unpredictable linebacker-end coming and more linebackers dropping into the short passing lanes. Let the rush come from Brady not having to make his hot read and dumping it off to Welker or his tight ends. Of course, the four men have to disrupt Brady while the plays develop, but, in their current state, the Texans cannot collapse the pocket.
Perhaps, if we continue to push this newer wrinkle further, Phillips should move to a more rush-friendly line-up that includes Earl Mitchell at end with J.J. Watt lining up right over the center to collapse Brady's pocket since Shaun Cody's strength is more body occupier than penetrator or pocket collapser. Moving Watt inside, where he has the core and functional strength to fight against double-teams, may possibly diminish his statistical opportunities, but it would allow many others potentially shine.
Watt, in theory, would push the pocket and not give Brady a clear place to step up into. The uncomfortable Brady may have to move off his spot and, again in theory, move into the waiting arms of Mitchell, Antonio Smith, Connor Barwin, or Brooks Reed. They can use Watt and the threat of Watt to push the pocket and create opportunities and one-on-one match-ups for the others so the Bulls on Parade do not have to rely on blitzing for pressure.
It goes against nature to want to not blitz the quarterback and move your best defensive player, but perhaps that's the kind of tendency change that could slow New England down. Perhaps the answer to breaking the Blitz-Breaker is to put a wrecking ball in the middle of the pocket, surround him with penetrating ends and a quick-rushing linebacker, and drop the extra backer or two into short zone coverage. What cannot happen is another day of man coverage with five-plus men blitzing. Phillips is going to have to throw some curveballs at Brady if the Texans want to move onto the AFC Championship Game.
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