The Tennessee Titans defense must force Tom Brady to feel his age

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 24: Quarterback Jared Goff
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 24: Quarterback Jared Goff /

The Tennessee Titans defensive front can be a major factor in disrupting QB Tom Brady and preventing him from calmly finding his targets.

The mystique, intimidation and football folklore associated with New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has echoed throughout the league for years. It has worked its way into many of his opponents, especially in some of the biggest games of his career.

The Tennessee Titans can respect Brady’s accomplishments, but all other noise about how it’s nearly impossible to best Brady–especially at home–has to be completely ignored.

The Titans must do what few teams from the past were able to do when beating Brady in the postseason: Ignore the hype and treat him like another man in a jersey.

Paper or Plastic?

The Titans have to sack Brady. Generating pressure will help, but Brady can maintain a calm presence in the pocket regardless. His timely release makes him dangerous.

The Titans defense has developed into the league’s best at getting to the opposing QB. As seen above, Tennessee faced a tough task in a Chiefs team that rarely gave up sacks. The Titans finished with four sacks and five QB hits in their win over the Chiefs last weekend.

Tennessee has to game plan to do the same to a more-seasoned, less-mobile target. The defense won’t have to be concerned with Brady doing damage with his legs. In fact, they may encourage that in order to have an opportunity to make a play on him as a runner.

The disruption of the Titans’ defensive line centers around the production from anchor DT Jurrell Casey. The Pro Bowler may not be as heralded as the Aaron Donalds of the league, but his production is second to none. Three of his six sacks came in the month of December. Casey is looking to collect a few more in the postseason.

Brady’s offensive unit has allowed 35 sacks on the season. In the last five weeks, the Patriots gave up 11 sacks to the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers lead the league in sacks, whereas the other units have the talent but rank in the bottom 20. The fifth-ranked Titans are eager for an opportunity at the defending Super Bowl champs.

Casey’s ability to generate interior pressure or command double teams opens up lanes for blitzing teammates to speed through. By collapsing the interior and forcing the offensive line to help sustain a pocket, it frees up the outside pass rush provided by Brian Orakpo, Erik Walden and Derrick Morgan.

Since December, Orakpo has recorded 4.5 of his 8.5 sacks and teammate Wesley Woodyard tallied up 2.5.

The Atlanta Falcons’ ability to get to Brady early helped them build a lead they should have sustained in last year’s Super Bowl. Unlike the Falcons, the Titans will lean on their fourth quarter power back Derrick Henry to keep Brady off the field if Tennessee manages to have a lead late.

In previous meetings with Brady, Woodyard has .5 sacks, Walden has 1, Casey has 1 and Karl Klug has .5. These are the only players who have touched Brady. Not many get to Brady, but to win Saturday, it’s practically mandatory.

The Titans have to be calculated in their blitz calls. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will be asked to call his best game of the season against a QB like Brady, who has a knack for making teams pay by exploiting mistakes. The Titans have to generate the occasional unavoidable pressure right up the center. It disrupts and prevents a clean pocket from being built.

If LeBeau dials up a tremendous amount of pressure off the edge, Brady will find his moments to capitalize. LeBeau’s defense has to limit those moments while still cranking up the heat. It’s a daunting task, but not impossible.

Veteran players like Casey, Orakpo, Walden and Woodyard have to play with a veteran edge. They must maintain the desire to win in the postseason. Each are capable of impacting the outcome of Saturday’s game.

Any of the names mentioned above getting a free shot on Brady could be game-changing.

Neutralizing the Patriots Poison

Brady’s line of success has to do with his ability to spread out the ball and utilize all his available weapons. The Titans must cut off the circulation to his favorite targets, while still minding the whereabouts of others to avoid being exposed.

The Titans benefited from Kelce’s early exit last week, as it enabled the defense to focus on shutting down WR Tyreek Hill.

Much of the attention of the Titans defense was geared towards Hill, which allowed for Kelce to gain big chunks of yards and exploit one-on-one mismatches. Expect New England to do the same.

New England WR Brandin Cooks has made his impression felt in his first season in New England, behind only Gronkowski by two yards and one touchdown. Cooks and Gronkowski offer a similar tandem, as each will open up opportunities for each other. The Titans have to neutralize one, but which one?

The additional problem is the Patriots have a tendency to find a new weapon to work with when one or both of their primary targets are struggling. The Pats added WR Kenny Britt, who is inconsistent but has the potential to haul in targets. WR Danny Amendola, a recovering WR Chris Hogan who may finally be healthy and other tools out of the backfield like RB James White and RB Dion Lewis all can be effective in New England’s pass attack.

Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans /

Tennessee Titans

Brady will not hesitate to test every matchup and establish trust with whoever can make the catch. Other players benefit when much of the defense’s attention is centralized around Gronkowski and Cooks.

Make Brady Act his Age

How can the Titans stop the Patriots passing game? The answer isn’t about stopping it, but more towards slowing it down. Every throw Brady makes has to be under duress. He is so natural in the pocket and can get rid of the ball quickly. The Titans defensive front has to be a bully in the trenches early and often.

It is ingrained in Brady’s mind where his check downs and security blanket targets will be. The passes have to be hurried. If the Titans’ pressure can be enough to generate an early turnover or force a few early three and outs, QB Marcus Mariota and RB Derrick Henry have to build lengthy drives and produce points. Brady’s opportunities to “right the wrongs” must be limited.

The pass rush has to aggravate Brady. The Titans defense is one of the best at generating pressure. Throughout the season, the Titans have learned to evolve from a defense that wasn’t able to get to the QB to a team that can get to and sack the QB.

To win in Foxborough, the Titans will need tremendous production in the trenches on both sides of the ball. In doing so, they can force Brady off the field by making him uncomfortable so that he throw passes a little earlier than desired.

The defense has to make Brady feel his age. On a cold Saturday night, the Titans have to make Brady feel the frigid temperature in his bones. Tennessee’s pass rush has the potential to force Brady to feel it, especially if the Titans are able to deliver some shots.

History shows that defenses that were able to establish a pass rush and put Brady on his back a few times a game are the teams that have managed to get wins. The Jets, Ravens, Giants and Broncos are among some of the teams that were able to ignore the mystique of Brady and treated him as another man in a jersey.

Brady has plenty of weapons. If the Titans can make it difficult for him to find his targets, it could be a long night for number 12.

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