No Kryptonite for Brady
By Karen Guregian
FOXBORO -- The Chargers would love it if Gus Bradley turned into Tom Brady’s Kryptonite.
They would do cartwheels if he proved to be a defensive coordinator with magic schemes that will give Brady fits on Sunday.
Bradley’s certainly been around the block, and his fingerprints have been on quite a few defensive game plans of note. In the past, Brady has been forced to combat many Bradley-styled defenses in big games.
He worked under Pete Carroll as the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012 and essentially adopted his Cover-3 scheme. That 4-3 defense and Cover-3 scheme stayed with Dan Quinn in Seattle after Bradley moved on to Jacksonville (2013-16) as the Jaguars head coach. Then Quinn used that defense with the Falcons when he moved on to Atlanta in 2015.
Connecting the dots, the principles of the Cover-3 Bradley still employs were on display in Super Bowl XLIX when the Patriots took on the Seahawks and again in Super Bowl LI against Atlanta.
Brady was merely the MVP of both of those Super Bowls, although it took him a while to crack the defense in both cases. Against the Seahawks, the GOAT struggled in the first half before bringing the team back in the fourth quarter. He finished 30-of-57 for 328 yards with four scores and two picks. Against the Falcons, he had another uneven performance where he could do nothing for one half before going lights out with the game on the line. Brady finished 43-of-62 for 466 yards with two scores and a pick, bringing the team back from 25 late in the third quarter in that epic comeback.
Given the personnel Bradley has with the Chargers, the Cover-3 has been effective as the Chargers finished with the ninth-ranked defense in the NFL. What makes it work?
The premise is that it uses eight men (including a safety close to the line) in the box to stop the run. The other three defensive backs divide the secondary into three sections.
The cornerbacks play bump-and-run coverage. The key is having four defensive linemen who can pressure the quarterback. And Bradley does with this group. He has the disruptive duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa up front, and they have the potential to make Brady’s life miserable on Sunday.
Bradley also has a terrific secondary with Casey Hayward, Adrian Phillips, Desmond King and rookie safety Derwin James.
Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson was no match for this defense. The Ravens, predominantly a running team, could never get started as Bradley employed seven defensive backs against the Ravens.
Why has Brady ultimately been able to pick the defense apart?
He’s found the soft spots in the defense. Brady has used his ability to make the quick read to get the ball out to his backs and slot receivers in those soft areas.
In the 2014 Super Bowl, he broke the Seahawks with a healthy dose of Shane Vereen (11 catches, 64 yards) and Julian Edelman (nine catches, 109 yards, TD). Against the Falcons, James White caught a record-setting 14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Against the Chargers, Brady might be able to do the same with White and Edelman, or Rex Burkhead. He could also strike down the seams with Rob Gronkowski, if his tight end can beat the coverage, which is likely to be rookie safety Derwin James, who’s had season worthy of being names an All-Pro.
White said the Patriots, along with studying the current Chargers film, also looked at those Super Bowls to get a handle on the defense.
“You can pinpoint some things. It’s definitely the same family with the Cover-3 most of the time,” said White. “Running backs can catch a lot of check-down passes with that type of defense. You have to be available for Tom, but everyone has their own flavor (of employing the defense). They’ll mix it up depending on what they’re trying to stop. We’ll see what they decide to do against us on Sunday.”
The pressure Bradley is able to get with his front, however, forces mistakes. Pressure is what hindered Brady in the first halves of those Super Bowls, and in a 2012 loss against the Seahawks at Seattle. So Brady has to be on his game. He has to be at his best when it comes to making quick reads, getting rid of the ball, and being accurate.
“They play a one-gap style of defense. That’s what coach Bradley’s always done and they’re really good at what they do, create a lot of issues for you with their penetration,” Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday. “They’re disruptive in the running game and create negative plays, which puts you into second and third-and-long which they excel at and then they can create a ton of problems then with their pass rush.
“This is a tremendous challenge,” McDaniels added. “Our ability to try to limit some of those negative situations and negative plays is going to go a long way in this game . . . this is the best team we’ve played all year.”
Brady has survived Bradley’s defense in the past. Stay tuned on Sunday.