New England Patriots  


Battering Brady makes sense in theory, but it's risky

  • By Pat Kirwan
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Stephan Savoia / Associated Press
The Packers tried to force Tom Brady into mistakes, but the quarterback proved the pressure didn't have an impact.

The Patriots have been in attack mode for the last six weeks. During that stretch, Tom Brady and Co. haven't turned the ball over and have scored at least 30 points in each game, setting an NFL record in the process.

With the type of success the Patriots have had during a six-game winning streak, they have seemed unstoppable. That's why there was great anticipation that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers would give all remaining opponents a blueprint to slow down New England.

Record when sacked three or more times since 2003
Player Record Win pct.
Tom Brady 19-4 82.6
Brett Favre 11-11 50.0
Peyton Manning 6-5 54.5
Drew Brees 5-14 26.3
Michael Vick 15-19 44.1

Capers spent 2008 with Bill Belichick and the Patriots, and the well-known schemer was sure to know how to stop the offensive juggernaut.

It would seem that putting pressure on Brady is important to stopping the Patriots. Obviously, sacks are a very important statistic when evaluating defenses. Every possession has about a 25 percent chance of ending up in a score, but if the defense can get a sack the probability of a score goes down to about 7 percent. Reduce the probability of scoring to single digits, and quarterbacks don't lead teams to victory. That is, unless your last name is Brady.

The Packers sacked Brady three times. When examining the impact of pressure and sacks on Brady as compared to other elite quarterbacks, the results demonstrate just how special No. 12 really is.

Clearly, sacking Brady isn't the same as getting to other quarterbacks. In fact, he has been sacked three times in each of the last three games -- all wins -- and the offense has averaged 37.3 points.

Capers' rush calls against Brady
No. of rushers Times used Passing results Sacks
3-man 5 3-5, 28 yards 0
4-man 14 8-12, 64 yards, 2 TDs 1
5-man 6 3-5, 85 yards 1
6-man 4 1-3, 5 yards 1

When Capers built his game plan for the Patriots, he had to deal with several issues. Five teams sacked Brady three or more times heading into the matchup and New England was 5-0 in those games and averaged 33.6 points. How much risk was Capers willing to take? When teams were able to keep Brady's pass attempts under 30 by inviting the run, Brady was 6-0 and averaged 38 points. Attack or play coverage? A team like the Jets is known for a pressure defense, and they have sacked Brady 27 times in 15 games since 2003. The Patriots have gone 12-3 in those games.

If Capers put all the pressure calls against Brady in 2010 on a reel prior to the matchup, he would have close to 150 plays on tape and he would have seen 90 completions (60 percent completion rate) for 1,200 yards, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions and nine sacks. Did Capers really want to get deep into the five- and six- man pressure calls against a guy who throws an interception once every 75 attempts in that situation, or gets sacked once every 16.7 pressures?

Rest assured, teams are all hoping for clues from how Capers opted to attack Brady. Capers played coverage 19 times (three- or four-man pressure), and Brady went 11-17 for 92 yards and two touchdowns.

Diagram 1: The only sack when the Packers played coverage came when B.J. Raji beat Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins. The Patriots built a two-back set from "12" personnel (one running back and two tight ends) and wanted to play-action pass against the Packers. This sack was a simple breakdown by Mankins and not cause for alarm by Brady.

Diagram 2: Capers heated up the rush 10 times (five- or six-man pressure), and Brady responded by going 4 of 8 for 90 yards but was sacked twice. Capers knows Brady is a midline passer and his launch point is right behind the center. As Clay Mathews said prior to the game, "We have to get him off his spot." Again, this sack was not a stroke of genius but a breakdown by the running back. BenJarvus Green-Ellis decided to help on Raji after he had the earlier sack and didn't see Desmond Bishop on the twist stunt. This sack also came against 12 personnel with Brady under center.

Diagram 3:When Brady was in shotgun, the Packers got to him once in the third quarter after Capers played coverage eight of 11 times in the first half and didn't get to him. Brady was 9 of 11 from shotgun in the first half and Capers knew he had to bring six or get chewed up. In the first third-and-long situation of the third quarter, Capers called a six-man pressure and, using the inside twist stunt from the second diagram, with Charles Woodson rushing over Mankins this time, Raji got to Brady again. I'm sure Belichick told Danny Woodhead to take Woodson instead of Mankins and leave Raji to Mankins. Woodhead had no chance against Raji, and the breakdown led to a third sack.

The Patriots will work on correcting all scenarios that led to sacks, and Brady will go into his bag of tricks, including using more no huddle, quick counts, hard counts and empty sets to defuse teams that want to pressure him up the middle. Capers was committed to inside pressure to get Brady off his launch point. If the problem arises again, expect Brady to use some half roll and occasionally vacate the launch point.

Football is like a chess match, and Brady is the master chess player. While everyone points to the Giants sacking their way to a win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, since that day, Brady is 7-1 when teams sack him three or more times.

After watching a lot of the pressure calls this year, defenses really need to think about just slowing Brady down and not risking the damage he can do. The next team that copies Capers' pressure calls will probably pay dearly.



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