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Wanna beat Brady? Here's how
Say three "Hail Marys’’ and four "Our Fathers.’’ And then pray some more.
I say this only half-kiddingly. Because my task this week is like getting a call from the guy on Mission Impossible.
My assignment: Game plan for the Cowboys defense, which is trying to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots this week.
See what I mean?
It’s normally a tall task to begin with, but when he’s playing as well as he’s playing right now, combined with the New England offense playing so well, it makes it even more difficult. Brady’s been nearly flawless.
How flawless? Brady has thrown for an NFL-record 1873 yards and 14 touchdowns through fives games. He has a 67.9 percent completion rate and a QB rating of 109.5
But what makes Tom Brady so good?
First, most people start with the physical attributes. But what really separates him from the rest is his will to win. That trumps everything. He thrives on not only beating people, he likes to destroy them.
When teams get a big lead, most quarterbacks want to come out of the game. Not him. He wants to put it to you and bury you for the whole game.
In addition to his will to win, he does have special physical attributes as well. Three come to mind:
• No. 1: He sees the field so well, he’s always one step ahead of the defense.
• No. 2: He has an uncanny pocket presence, which buys him time for his receivers to create separation.
• No. 3: Once there is separation with his receivers, his accuracy is unparalleled.
Obviously, I’m not saying he can’t be beaten. I’ve played on teams that have beaten Brady and the Patriots. The Denver team in 2005 actually handed Brady his first NFL playoff loss – this, after he and the Patriots had won three Super Bowls.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but here’s what the Cowboys need to do:
The head coach and defensive coordinator can’t sugarcoat anything; plain and simple he is the best. However, he can be and has been beaten. We all know he’s great and the Cowboys coaches can say so. In my mind, their most important job of the week is to build their guys up and let them know – and make them BELIEVE that they can beat him and the Patriots. Give them the road map, present them with the challenge and show them examples of other teams that beat them.
As for the game plan, for the teams that have played and have beaten the Patriots, there is a common trend. First and foremost, even Tom Brady is affected when people are hitting him. You have to find a way to put pressure on him. He likes to step up in the pocket so it’s very important that the pressure comes from right up the gut. You have to have people around his legs, his face and be constantly hitting him throughout the course of the game.
Nobody likes that.
If you can hit him consistently, it will affect two to three throws late in the game that will cause him to miss. Those two or three misses could be the difference in the game. You have to have something that turns the tide, because you can only keep him down for so long. At some point he’s going to get hot.
I remember in our game in ’05, Champ Bailey took an interception back 102 yards for a TD and that was the back-breaker. Somebody on that defense has got to step up and make a big play.
And yes, because he gets all of his receivers involved, it does make it more difficult on a defense. They have Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, who I think is playing better than anyone else in football right now at the tight end position. And, of course, Chad Ochocinco, who hasn’t really done much so far.
Here’s how you slow them down: Other than Chad (well, not this year), there are no flat-out burners that scare you or can beat you over the top. So you have to get your hands on them early and rough them up at the line of scrimmage. You have to disrupt the timing of their offense.
Once you disrupt their timing, you disrupt their rhythm. And have I mentioned this? You have to keep banging on Brady.
Another important key: You have to tackle. You know Tom Brady is going to complete balls. I can’t stress this enough. You have to tackle well.
You can’t allow yards after the catch. You can’t let guys like Gronkowski, Hernandez, Branch and Welker take a little gainer and turn it into a big one.
Finally, playing on the road will hurt Dallas a bit, since the Patriots are so solid at home. It’s one thing for the defense to play well, but the Cowboys offense has to keep up. And I’m not talking about field goals. I’m talking touchdowns.
In 1998 when I was in Tampa, we were playing the Vikings the year they were setting all kinds of offensive records. They finished the season 15-1, and we were the 1.
I remember Coach (Tony) Dungy telling our punter in practice that week that there was no need to practice because we weren’t going to punt. It was very uncharacteristic for Dungy to do that, because he was a field-position guy. But he knew we needed to match them score for score.
It’s won’t be easy, but it can be done.
Probably wouldn’t hurt to throw in a few “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers.”