By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- In a seven-day span Tom Brady will throw against two Ryan defenses; he dodges Rex to dance with Rob. And for as good as the Jets 'D' can be, the Cowboys aren't far behind.
Dallas, statistically, is toughest against the rush, allowing just 61.8 yards per game. The team's total defense is ranked fourth (291.8 yards per game), surrendering 230.0 passing yards on average.
Brady is up on these numbers. Of course.
"He's a great coach," Brady said about Rob. "He gets those guys playing hard. I think they're very talented. They've got a bunch of good skill type players over there . . . They really get pressure on the quarterback from everybody. They get pressure on the three-man rush, they get pressure on the four-man rush, when they blitz they get pressure. . . . So, we've got to make sure we really stand up to them."
Ryan had Brady's number last year in Cleveland. The Browns' 34-14 win over the Patriots sticks out sorely because it was the second of New England's only two losses in 2010. And because Cleveland's defense held the Patriots to its lowest point total of the season. (Rex's Jets beat them 28-14 on September 19.) Brady went 19-for-34 in front of a giddy dog pound that November day.
Despite the different personnel in Dallas, he knows what Rob Ryan can do.
"Everything's very well coordinated," the quarterback said. "They've got a bunch of different things that they do . . . it's certainly not easy to prepare for. They've got a bunch of different blitz looks, a bunch of different defensive packages. It's kind of a gameplay defense and you're never really sure what you're going to get until you get out there, so you've got to prepare for everything."
But then there are those guys you just have to brace yourself for. Like DeMarcus Ware.
Ware is the linebacker Texas Pop Warner quarterbacks hear ghost stories about. He doesn't currently lead the NFL in sacks (he's tied for fourth), but, firstly, the Cowboys are coming off a bye and secondly, the minute you think he's off his game he'll have you on the ground.
Brady was sacked three times when last these team's met -- a 48-27 New England win in October of 2007. One of the takedowns belongs to Ware.
"He can get after the quarterback as good as anybody we play," Brady said. "He's powerful, he's fast off the edge, he's got a bunch of different moves. It's not like you just set on the speed rush and he'll speed rush you and then he'll power you right into the quarterback.
"The first play of the 2011 season he sacked Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez . . . If he gets going early he's going to be a problem all day, so we've got to make sure we really account for him on every play."
There are new worries, too. Rob Ryan inherited a sneaky winner in Sean Lee, a 6-2, 245 pound linebacker, when he took over the Dallas defense. After a year of digesting an NFL system, Lee has been a bear on the Cowboys line this season. In his first career start, that 27-24 loss to the Jets, his 15 tackles lead the team. Lee also picked off a Sanchez pass and ran it back 37-yards, which set up a Dallas touchdown. He even threw in a fumble recovery to round things out.
Lee's pace through the subsequent weeks wasn't slowed: 36 stops, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries. And more homework for Tom Brady.
"He's not big in stature, almost Zach Thomas-like," Brady said, comparing Lee to the former Dolphins linebacker who made the Pro Bowl eight times, "but really dissects the passing game, reads the quarterback really well. That return he had for a touchdown against the Jets was a phenomenal play: read the quarterback, kind of figured out the route, anticipated the throw, made a great catch and a great run. He's very good.
"He's obviously very smart, you can see that from just watching him play," Brady added. "He communicates a lot. When the play is called into the defense you can see he's one of the guy's that's always trying to get everything communicated to the rest of the guys, which tells you how the coaches feel about him. And that defense, I would say, is not very easy. There's a lot that they do, so to put that on a second-year player, that tells you what they think of him."
The esteem of Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is more than enough of an endorsement to caution Brady. As the backlog shows, that's how it should be.