Phillips Will Try His Hand at Stopping Pats
ATLANTA -- Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley thought he had the scheme and the defense to shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense
He wasn’t close. The game was over by halftime.
So then it was Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s turn to devise a plan to put a lid on the Pats offense in the AFC Championship Game.
In some ways, he did worse than Bradley. He couldn’t get the offense off the field. He couldn’t stop the running game, Julian Edelman and ultimately, Brady, with the game on the line. Sutton’s now looking for a job.
Next up? Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He gets a crack at Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Sunday night.
Will he do any better than the last two who were no match, and also appeared too stubborn, too arrogant, or too stupid to make any changes to try and thwart what the Patriots were doing?
Hey, there’s no pressure on Phillips. All that’s at stake is the Super Bowl.
He hasn’t exactly stifled No. 12 in the past. Brady is 6-3 against the long-time coach, who most notably has been with the Texans and Broncos during the past decade prior to joining the Rams.
Brady has averaged nearly 300 yards per game against Phillips’ defenses. He’s thrown 21 touchdowns and seven picks in those nine games. Phillips, however, has had some luck, most notably the last three times he’s gone up against Brady when he coached in Denver. Brady’s worst outing against the now 71-year old coordinator was the 2015 AFC title game against the Broncos.
Phillips had success that day because he was able to get to the Pats quarterback. It was all about pressure, which he got that day from his Broncos front. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware shredded the Patriots tackles (Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer), while Derek Wolfe generated pressure inside. Brady was sacked four times, and hit nearly 20 other times.
The Broncos were able to tee off because the Pats had no semblance of a run game that day. Brandon Bolden, James White and Stephen Jackson managed 17 rushes for 44 yards in the 20-18 loss.
Brady finished 27-of-56 (48.2 percent) for 310 yards (5.5 yards per attempt) with one touchdown, two interceptions and a 56.4 passer rating. That was his second-lowest passer rating in a postseason game (his lowest was 49.1 against the Baltimore Ravens in 2009).
Can Phillips pull off a similar scenario? Can he stop the run, then rush four, drop seven and get enough pressure to affect the passing game?
“He’s just going to let his guys play. That’s what they do. That’s what they’ve done all year. He’s not going to do anything different here,” NBC commentator Rodney Harrison said of Phillips when reached last week. “Aaron Donald and those guys, he’s going to let them go. Wade gives people freedom. Those guys don’t have A-gap or B-gap responsibilities. Just get to the quarterback.”
Phillips certainly has a formidable group up front to accomplish that task. Along with Donald, who leads with 20.5 sacks, there’s Ndamukong Suh inside. Out on the flanks are Michael Brockers and Dante Fowler.
Neutralizing them will be the key, and for the Patriots, that starts with running the football. If the Patriots are able to run as successfully as they did against the Chargers and Chiefs, especially in the early going, that will help stunt that line. They’ll dictate the pace, much like they did in the two games leading up to the Super Bowl.
“I’m sure they’ll have a heck of a plan for Aaron Donald,” Harrison said of the league MVP candidate, “but it’s going to come down to if the Patriots can run the ball or not.”
Sony Michel ran for 100-plus yards in both playoff games. The Patriots haven’t lost when he’s hit that threshold. With the ground game going, that’s opened it up for Brady with play action and his short-passing game.
“The key is protection. They don’t do anything that’s too complicated,” said Harrison. “So Tom will be able to pick them apart.”
Phillips prefers man-coverage but has had to go with more zone coverages this year due to injuries with Aqib Talib missing time early.
Given Brady often devours zone coverages (see Chargers), Phillips will likely go back to a heavier dose of man-coverage. Who will he put on Edelman? Will it be Talib, who will be physical with him at the line, or will he go with his usual slot corner, Nickell Robey-Coleman? And who will Phillips assign the task of covering Rob Gronkowski? Those matchups will be key.
Then there’s James White. If the Saints game was any indication, Phillips might have to go back to the drawing board. Alvin Kamara caught 11 passes for 96 yards. Cory Littleton was no match for the Saints back coming out of the backfield.
He won’t be a match for White, either.
Asked if Phillips would make any adjustments to try and negate White, Harrison answered this way: “He’s going to do whatever he’s done all year. He’s not going to do anything different. He trusts his guys.”
That means it’ll be up to his guys to deliver.