Pittsburgh seems to have a weird infatuation with playing zone defense against the New England Patriots. It feels as if Steelers fans and media truly believe it is that, and that alone that causes their struggles against Tom Brady. As if Brady does not have good stats against man defenses, they think the easy solution to stopping, or slowing down the best quarterback of the decade is just by running a defense that he sees a large group of other teams run, and has success against. Let’s get real, Tom Brady beats defenses before the snap. Zone, man, it does not matter, once he knows what you are running, he knows where he is throwing the ball.
How to Slow Down Tom Brady: Get Home With Four
The only way to slow down Tom Brady will be to get pressure on him. Nobody can pick defenses apart running backward, and getting tossed onto the ground. Think about it, we always praise Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora for the New York Giants Super Bowl wins, not that vaunted man coverage.
However, this is a fine line as well. Brady is also the best quarterback in the NFL when it comes to beating the blitz. How the Giants eliminated that problem was to get home with just four pass rushers. The Patriots can only have five skill players. If you can drop seven defenders to take on five skill players, you are at an advantage. Of course, it means being at a disadvantage in terms of numbers when sending four men after five linemen.
This is not a revolutionary scheme to beat the Patriots, it is just straight up being better in the area in which you have to be better than them. It is not the easiest feat, and if the pressure does not come, the secondary still winds up being susceptible to being burnt when the play breaks down. But again, to think that beating a Tom Brady-led football team is easy in any capacity would be the first mistake.
When the Patriots offense has struggled in 2017, sacks have been the reason. Tom Brady has been sacked 29 times this season. His 2.2 sacks per game this season put him just barely better than the league average of 2.3. Yes, we found a statistic in which Brady and the Patriots have been average this season.
While attacking an offensive line and getting home with just four pass rushers is obviously tough, this is how the Tom Brady has been sacked so often this year. Of his 29 sacks, 21 have come from a four-man rush. Another one came on a three-man rush that caused a coverage sack.
In 76% of the times in which Tom Brady has been sacked in 2017, the defense did not blitz. This is how the Steelers have to do it.
This is going to mean big games needed out of not only the defensive line but the pass rushers. The defensive line should have a strong game. They are in a plus matchup. While David Andrews, the center has been fantastic and will cause issues for Javon Hargrave, their guard combination is the pass protection weakness of the team.
Their duo of Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney have allowed 9.5 sacks combined. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have to take advantage here. On top of that, the team just placed right tackle Marcus Cannon on the Injured Reserve this week. Cameron Fleming has started the past three weeks but has also been the culprit of two sacks. Bud Dupree has five sacks in 12 starts. He is going to be in an advantageous matchup here and will have to find a way to increase his production in this game.
Then, on the left side, is the matchup of the game. Nate Solder has been strong in pass protection against weaker competition but has also really struggled against top-level players. Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and Melvin Ingram are some of the few who have abused Solder.
What level is T.J. Watt on? Watt has been dropping into coverage more often, but last week, played really against an up and coming left tackle in Ronnie Stanley. When the Steelers are in base defense, Watt will likely still drop back. However, in nickel situations, which typically occurs on third downs, Watt needs to get home and force punts.
So while everyone is debating zone vs. man, just know that really is not the question. The five players who will decide this game on defense are Javon Hargrave, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt.