Brady braces for rush jobs
Defenses targeting QB with blitzes
FOXBOROUGH -- He walked through the locker room yesterday, his bloodied lip still fat. Tom Brady had the least productive day of his career in the Patriots' 24-10 win over Miami Sunday because the Dolphins did what the Buffalo Bills had tried to do the week before -- blitz Brady into oblivion.
It's not that either team was successful. Two of Brady's seven completions Sunday went for touchdowns. He was sacked only once -- after not getting sacked at all by Buffalo -- and even though observers didn't feel the Dolphins blitzed any more than usual, Brady got knocked down and hit much more than he usually does.
They bloodied his lip, not his resolve.
When you're a two-time Super Bowl MVP, defenses aren't letting up. Some may even take a roughing-the-passer call just to send a message, and Brady is getting all of that.
But while Brady can beat the blitz just about as well as any quarterback in the league, it's becoming apparent that teams feel they have to blitz to at least make him rush his throws.
One AFC assistant coach said of Brady, "He's poised, he's cool, and he's the best quarterback in this league right now. Yeah, he's better than Peyton Manning. But you have to go after him. You have to take the chance he's going to be able to beat you on a big play because if you let him sit back there and throw it, he'll complete it. So you might as well see if you can disrupt him even in a small way."
It's hard to imagine this coordinated assault on Brady would ever rattle him, but only time will tell whether it takes a physical toll.
The Patriots' next opponent, Seattle, may also elect to do the same. Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes likes to blitz, and the Seahawks, unlike the Bills and Dolphins, have the quick-strike offense that can score a lot of points if their defense has to take chances.
"I think every team is going to have a different style of defense they like to play, playing to their strengths and playing to what they think is our weakness," said Patriots tackle Tom Ashworth. "I think it just changes every week. It depends on what they feel is their best chance to win."
While Ashworth was surprised to hear the Patriots have allowed only one sack over the last two games, he said, "That surprises me because I thought Tom [Brady] was getting hit a little bit. He does such a great job of getting rid of the ball. He realizes where the pressure is and gets rid of it, so much of the credit is on him."
That was a common theme among the Patriots' offensive linemen. They realized that the Dolphins got to Brady and tried to rough him up. They were fortunate Brady didn't suffer the same consequences as A.J. Feeley and Jay Fiedler, who suffered a concussion and cracked ribs, respectively, in a span of three fourth-quarter plays. Brady has been amazingly resilient considering he might be the most marked man in all the NFL right now.
Of course, if the opposition is going to blitz on just about every play, not even the greatest offensive line is going to save the QB all of the time, though the Patriots are the closest thing to perfect on that front.
"I think we work on it a lot," Ashworth said. "I think the coaches do a good job on that. They've always got us prepared for what they can bring. We also practice against our defense, where we see a lot of different things, so that helps. We take a lot of pride in knowing what to do. That's one of the strengths I feel of our offensive line. We have an intelligent bunch of guys, plus we don't want to get Tom hit. It's unbelievable Tom's pocket presence. He makes us look good."
Tight end Christian Fauria is often on the field to help out with blitz pickups, but his feeling is that teams might let up because they know Brady can beat the blitz.
"They're going to run that stuff until we figure out how to stop it," said Fauria. "And when we figure out how to stop it, then they probably won't do it. If they blitz so much, there's probably going to be a mismatch somewhere or a one-on-one somewhere. Coaches have to rethink that stuff and not be so aggressive and be more conservative once they get burned."
Sometimes, though, you have to let it all hang out. But when Seattle watches film of the Patriots' win over Miami, they'll see a quarterback who can be hit, and wound up completing under 50 percent of his passes.
"We've got to be ready for everything," center Dan Koppen said. "Tommy is a smart guy; he knows what's going on. He puts in more work during the week than anybody. When he's able to see those things and pick them up and make adjustments, it just makes our job that much easier. There's still room for improvement. That's the main thing. I think we're communicating well, getting hacks on the right people. We just need to continue that."
Veteran guard Joe Andruzzi expects to see more blitzing. He said the Patriots practice blitz pickups every day in practice. They understand that teams want to pressure Brady.
"They're going to bring the house and they're going to try and confuse you," Andruzzi said. "They're not going to bring the same stuff out that they've brought in weeks past. They're going to bring some stuff that's the same and other stuff that they think they can confuse us with. That's what it comes down to, really."
Andruzzi was quite cognizant of Brady's fat lip and the hits he took. He's not happy that some Dolphins got through and took their shots.
"He's still getting damaged here and there," said Andruzzi. "You're trying to keep him from getting that pressure, but it happens, so that's why you have to do your best on every play. We practice an abundance of different blitzes every day. If they do bring them or if they don't bring them, we'll try to prepare ourselves for what we think they'll throw at us," Andruzzi said.
The Patriots understand they can survive injuries to 52 of their 53 players. The one who must remain upright is Brady -- the one everyone is trying to take down.