FOXBORO – Tom Brady doesn’t like to lose a rep. But the physicality of the Patriots defensive backs in camp has given Brady a steady diet of reps gone bad.
Receivers leave the line of scrimmage and the handfighting, jostling, grabbing and shedding with the defensive back is on. On Wednesday, it bubbled over when Brandon Browner got called out for overdoing it.
Back at the line of scrimmage, Brady watches the mayhem waiting for a window to open.
I asked him Thursday if he’d rather the reps go more cleanly or if he likes to see his guys work through it.
“I think that’s what defenses do,” Brady shrugged. “We’ll go into games and say, ‘Look, these guys hold on every play. They grab you, they clutch you, they hold you, but we still have to figure out a way to get open. It’s not flag football. Their hands are going to be on you, and the refs, they’re only going to call it when you pass the limit of where they think the limit is.’ ”
The handsy defense is good prep for Brady’s receivers. And it doesn’t bother Brady to see his defensive brethren getting after it because soon, it will be other quarterbacks dealing with it.
“That’s just part of football, and I think the best defenses I’ve ever played against – they get their hands on you, and they don’t let you get into your route, and they disrupt the timing,” Brady explained. “Our corners, Kyle Arrington, and linebackers in coverage do a great job of that, too. But we’ve got to learn to be just as physical. We’ve got to learn to push off in the right way and get our leverage because that’s how it’s going to be when it matters.”
The Patriots have historically mixed coverages, but one of the tenets of Bill Belichick’s approach is to make an offense earn points by stringing plays together. That often means playing “off” coverage, keeping receivers in front and closing on the ball. Don’t blitz. Wait for the offense to stub its toe.
Playing press coverage – jamming to disrupt timing – is risky business, especially if the jam is missed and the receiver gets a step on the DB. And if you combine press coverage with a more penetrating pass rush, that’s a double dice-roll. Tight coverage doesn’t hold up as long as soft coverage. If the rush doesn’t get there, that tight coverage can get burned.
There was no timing disruption by the Patriots in the AFC Championship last season. And that’s why they barely had a shot.
The team that took out Denver – with extreme prejudice – was the Seahawks. And they had their hands all over receivers all season.
Even with a rules emphasis cracking down on defensive holding, Brady seems happy to see that savvy aggressiveness from his defense.
“I think all of those guys are veterans,” Brady said. “They know how to get away with certain plays. Like (offensive) holding for example – it happens every play, so if you look close enough you’re going to find holding. There is an edge that you can always push it to. If you look at the offensive line, there’s holding on every play. That’s just the way football is. You’ve just got to do it in a way where the refs don’t see it and don’t call it. But that same thing goes for the defensive backfield. If there is a way to gain leverage on a particular route then you’re going to use it. The veterans know how to do it better; they know right where the limit is.”
Even though ugly plays sometimes push Brady’s patience to the limit, in the name of the receivers getting better, Brady will take it.