It seems like forever ago that Tom Brady jump-started his NFL career with a quick trio of Super Bowl victories in just four years as a starter.
It seems like forever ago because it was.
Brady may be a shoe-in for the Hall-of-Fame but he’s riding a two-game Super Bowl losing streak that he most certainly doesn’t want to stretch to three.
“Tom, you’d be an immortal, 5-0 Super Bowl record, if you hadn’t lost to Eli Manning twice. … No, no question; just wanted to remind you.”
— Anthony Crupi (@crupicrupicrupi) January 22, 2015
While there’s certainly no shortage of rings in the New England trophy case, another late-career title would do wonders for cementing the dominance of the Brady/Belichick dynasty and erasing recurring nightmares of that “other” Manning.
Here’s what Mr. Dreamy and Company need to do to break New England’s decade-long championship drought and allow Brady to join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only four-time Super Bowl winning QBs (both those dudes are 4-0 in the big game; try sniffing those jocks Tommy Boy).
Stretch the field and challenge the Legion of Boom
Father time has a way of catching up with all of us – but with so much of a quarterback’s success hinging on mental fortitude and knowledge of the game, it’s possible for elite signal callers to find continued success long after their arm strength has dwindled and they’ve adopted earlier bed times.
Reading defenses. Changing the play at the line of scrimmage. Quickly finding an open receiver. Making smart decisions.
All this stuff matters. A lot.
Short, accurate passes (thrown where the defense can’t get them) win games – a lot of games.
Unless, of course, you’re playing against Seattle – the Seahawks are fourth in the league against passes of 15 yards or less, and the Hawks’ crew of swarming defensive backs and linebackers thrive on limiting YAC (yards after the catch) and preventing short swing passes from turning into big plays and first downs.
Tom Brady’s pass selection this season looks frighteningly similar to last season’s “Old Man” QB, Peyton Manning, and we all saw what happened when #18 tried to dink and dunk his way through the stout Seattle defense.
Of Brady’s 650 pass attempts this year, 451 were thrown 10 yards or less from the line of scrimmage (96 were behind the line of scrimmage), and he only hucked the ball 30 yards or longer 17 times all season (10 completions with 5 touchdowns).
Do the math; that’s only once per game.
To find a chink in the Legion of Boom’s armor, Brady must challenge Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell deep, particularly in one-on-one coverage when safeties Earl Thomas III and Kam Chancellor aren’t in position to help in coverage. On third down he needs to find his receivers past the sticks to not allow strong tackling by Bobby Wagner to force the Patriots offense into punting situations.
When Tony Romo beat the Seahawks in Seattle this season he did it by throwing passes in the 21-30 yard range. This strategy eliminated the need for the Cowboys’ receivers to break tackles and evade Seattle’s stellar defense.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Tom Brady would be wise to take a page out of Tony Romo’s playbook.
Feed the Beast
LaGarrette Blount rushed for 148 yards with 3 touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship. No other Patriot was given a single hand-off as Blount played the role of workhorse, taking the rock on 30 separate occasions.
The Pats can’t expect to have similar success against the league’s #3 rushing defense (81.5 yards per game) – but they’d be wise to give Blount at least 20 touches to keep Thomas III and Chancellor up on the line and honest.
Furthermore, Blount’s bruising style of play gives New England their best opportunity to grind out additional yards after contact.
— Pro Football on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 20, 2015
Get Gronk involved
I almost feel embarrassed allotting valuable page space to talk about the importance of Rob Gronkowski to the Patriots’ offensive attack. He’s already a three-time All-Pro and barring injury will likely one day be crowned as the greatest tight end to ever play the game (sorry Tony Gonzalez).
Gronk was born to be a football player, just as Justin Bieber was born to be a wanker.
So just in case this article falls into the hands of little girls and/or Japanese exchange students, here’s the gigantic news flash: Rob Gronkowski is an animal. He’s the JJ Watt of offense and without him the Patriots’ dreams of Super Bowl glory will be deflated.
(And there it is…my one Deflate-Gate Easter Egg. Savor it.)
But hey, if we don’t talk about Gronk, we can’t talk about Jeremy Lane.
Who knows what the back-up corner and nickel back was thinking when he said “I actually don’t think he’s that good”.
Perhaps it was the only way to pry the microphone away from Richard Sherman?
The Seahawks’ defense gave up the third-most touchdowns to tight ends during the regular season (11). Gronk hauled in a league-high dozen TD receptions over the same timeframe.
Limit RW3’s effectiveness in the ground game
The Patriots lost four games in 2014 and three of these losses came against QBs in the top eight in rushing yards.
Russell Wilson was No. 1.
The #3 amassed an incredible 849 yards rushing on the year, good for better than half the league’s starting running backs (only 15 RBs rushed for more).
The Patriots’ defensive unit has got to stay in their lanes and prevent Wilson from breaking free into the open field. No Bill Belichick-coached Pats team has ever allowed a quarterback to rush for 100 yards, but Wilson tied an NFL record by achieving this feat on three separate occasions this season.
New England won’t be able to prevent Russell Wilson from pulling off one or two “OMG” plays over the course of four quarters but they simply can’t allow him to consistently run for first downs and waste quality coverage in the secondary.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower will often be engaged as a spy to track Wilson when the Patriots are in man coverage.
Trust Darrelle Revis to shut down Doug Baldwin
The Legion of Boom is the most feared secondary in the National Football League, but the best man-to-man cover team in the game belongs to the New England Patriots.
“Angry” Doug Baldwin may have had choice words for Deion Sanders and other doubters after the NFC Championship game, but spunk and confidence doesn’t make up for the fact that the Seahawks don’t truly suit up a traditional No.1 receiver that can create separation against the game’s top cover corners.
Baldwin is Russell Wilson’s favorite target when scrambling and looking to make a play out of nothing, but Doug will find it hard to get into open space when being tracked by Darrelle Revis.
Should Baldwin wind up spiking a ball or two on Revis Island, we just might see more crazy talk in the post-game.
Whatever you do, don’t collapse
In Super Bowl XLVIII the Seahawks defense dismantled the NFL’s No.1 offense before Peyton Manning could figure out which way it was to Omaha. If New England hopes to succeed where Denver failed so miserably they’ll need to score early and prevent the Seattle D from gaining momentum.
The Patriots must protect the football and force Seattle to score with their offense. Fumbles and interceptions (particularly turnovers returned for touchdowns) are back-breakers in the post-season.
For the second straight year the title game features a classic battle between offense and defense. Tom Brady has a real opportunity to prove that the “defense wins championships” mantra doesn’t always ring true.