Tom Brady has a career resume that many players can only dream of. Not many, if any at all, will be able to come close to matching the quarterback’s feats as a player or quarterback. Brady has six Super Bowl rings. And this Sunday, the former sixth round pick will be playing in his tenth total Super Bowl. But, there is one constant nemesis that continues to be a thorn in Brady’s side. That would be defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
The longtime Andy Reid assistant has been a blessing for the Kansas City Chiefs over the last two years. Quite frankly, the Chiefs defense could not go anywhere but up, following the firing of Bob Sutton as defensive coordinator after the 2018 regular season. Just showing minimal improvement was not going to be enough, though. Kansas City prioritized the safety position, signing then free agent Tyrann Mathieu to one of the key deals in franchise history. And drafting Juan Thornhill 63rd overall in 2019 added a technically sound coverage man over the top, allowing Mathieu to do what he does best. Being able to roam like he does, shows off the mixtures and zone blitzes that Spagnuolo loves to call.
And it worked against Brady for three quarters earlier this season once again. The defensive coordinator has also brought Brady down to his knees in a previous Super Bowl. How will Spagnuolo look to call the defense against Brady this time around? Will he stay the course or alter some wrinkles?
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Just Short Of Perfect
When Brady was with the New England Patriots in 2007, they had all the makings of matching the ’72 Dolphins for a perfect season being capped by a Super Bowl victory. Alongside the quarterback, they were loaded with Randy Moss and Wes Welker at receiver, a pair of studs on the left side of the offensive line in Matt Light and Logan Mankins, and a mixture at running back with Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney. Video game like numbers were put up week after week. The Super Bowl matchup against the New York Giants looked like a near gimme. We know that is not that common though in the NFL. Steve Spagnuolo and the Giants defense had a substantial chip on their shoulders, however.
The Patriots entered Super Bowl XLII scoring 36.8 points per game. By far, that was the best mark in the league for the 2007 regular season. Other categories where New England ranked first or near the top included turnovers lost, first downs, passing yards, passing touchdowns, net yards per attempt and rushing touchdowns. Spagnuolo’s unit turned them on their head.
The Patriots only scored seven points in each half. Meanwhile, they were held to one of their lowest amount of total yards all year (274). Committing costly penalties, having a monumental turnover and being unable to convert on crucial downs killed New England. Most of all, the Giants suffocating pass rush gave Brady and the Patriots the most trouble. Steve Spagnuolo was unrelenting with his blitzes once again, being led by the defensive end duo of Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. And 14 years later, Spags is still as aggressive as ever.
An Andy Reid Like Impact
The main component that has helped the Chiefs defense make strides is not necessarily all about the play on the field. Steve Spagnuolo has a relationship with his players that uplifts them and puts them in positions to succeed.
Going back to the aforementioned Umenyiora, it appears as if many defenders had nothing but love for him. There was plenty of praise recently thrown in the way of Steve Spagnuolo entering Super Bowl LV. Here are some highlights from former Giants defenders.
“I’m so happy for Spags. He was the best defensive coordinator I ever played for. We loved the guy. We loved playing for him. When you think about some of the ups and downs he went through, it hasn’t all been gravy. He kept his confidence the same way he kept confidence in us during our season. He’s still there, still as good ever,” Umenyiora said.
“Kansas City is my favorite in this game, for a lot of reasons. But, the main reason is because Spags has been there, he’s played against that Brady kid before. We all know how creative Spags can be when he can dial up blitzes or let his pass rushers go to work,” says Justin Tuck.
For his players, Steve Spagnuolo has the ultimate faith in all of them. This stems from his strong blend of family, confidence and truculent style.
Kansas City’s Bread And Butter
Going back to our original point, no one has been able to stifle Brady quite like Steve Spagnuolo. Similar to the Super Bowl win in his first year as defensive coordinator for New York, it is all about the pressure and using muddy looks to confuse the opponent. That was also the case in Kansas City’s victory over Brady in New England last year. And the same results arose against Brady in the Chiefs first meeting against the Buccaneers earlier this season.
They have been able to survive almost exclusively out of their dime package, placing speed on the field with six defensive backs. Not only does Spagnuolo bring a heavy dose of extra pressure, he unleashes from all angles and with any player. Kansas City has consistently been able to force hurried throws against Brady in both games under Spagnuolo. Mixing and matching with their defensive backs offers the opportunity for them to do a lot of unique things on the backend as well. Mathieu, Thornhill, Daniel Sorensen, L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton have been moved around the formation extensively. Spagnuolo will place two defensive backs in the B-gaps.
But, it is a huge guessing game as to knowing what exactly their assignment is. Disguising coverages the way the Chiefs do, has allowed them to take away star players. Just look at most of Stefon Diggs‘ performance from the AFC Championship Game.
Three For Three?
The main question besides wondering if Steve Spagnuolo can trounce Tom Brady again is, how dangerous will he get? Asking his players to excel under difficult assignments has not hurt him or the defender’s competitive nature. Will Tampa Bay figure out the holes to force the leak? That is a monumental storyline to watch for, if the Chiefs and Steve Spagnuolo are able to hit home runs on their gambles. With a win Coach Spags would move to 4-1 all time against Brady, including holding a 3-0 mark with Kansas City.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs Super Bowl articles throughout the week. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.