January 31, 2015


Super Bowl 49 Key Matchup: Tom Brady takes on Legion of Boom (Jared Dubin, 1/28/15, CBSSports.com)

Seattle's version of Cover-3 sees Richard Sherman control the deep third on the offense's right side of the field, Byron Maxwell on the offense's left and Earl Thomas in the middle. They very rarely stray from that alignment. Sherman lined up to the offense's right on 91.3 percent of his snaps this season, according to ESPN, and he's lined up to the offense's left for only 90 defensive snaps (out of 2,839) in his career. [...]

The Patriots won't have to make nearly as drastic an offensive shift if they wish to avoid throwing Sherman's way. Check out the distribution of Tom Brady's passes this season, courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Brady threw to the left side of the field -- where Maxwell will be lined up -- far more often (28.7 percent of the time) this season than he did to the right (16.4 percent). He also completed a far greater percentage of his passes (64.8 percent to 56.9 percent) when throwing to his left, and though he was intercepted more, his passes turned into touchdowns at a significantly higher rate when throwing that way (7.3 percent) than when he threw to the right side of the field (4.9 percent). It's already a natural New England strength to go away from Sherman, and that likely won't change much on Sunday.

Brady's favorite target when throwing left is unsurprisingly tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk had 38 catches for 532 yards and 10 touchdowns on throws to the left side of the field alone. Brady and the Pats love to split Gronk out wide near the goal line to get him matched up one-on-one with a corner or a safety, most of whom are not nearly big or strong enough to handle him.

The result of plays like this is almost never favorable for the defense. Gronk is actually more effective when split out wide than when he's lined up in line as a tight end or in the slot. [...]

In any event, the Seahawks actually struggled to cover tight ends more than they did any other receiving option this season. While Seattle ranked fourth in pass defense DVOA against No. 1 receivers, sixth against No. 2 wideouts and fourth against the slot, they were only 18th against both tight ends and running backs. Gronkowski working seam routes or digs in the middle of the field, behind the linebackers and in front of Thomas, is something that could work very well for the Patriots on Sunday.

Similarly, while he's been marginalized in recent weeks in favor of LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen could be very useful both out of the backfield and split out wide in the Super Bowl. Vereen is an excellent receiving back, and it's worth exploring how the Seahawks wish to match up with him when he lines up wide to either side or motions out of the backfield. If they use a linebacker rather than one of their corners, it's a matchup that could be exploited. Vereen has busted open for big plays down the field multiple times this season, including once against the Ravens a few weeks ago. Had Brady not underthrown the ball, it would have been a touchdown.

One of the keys to forcing Brady into bad throws like that is getting pressure in his face. Brady was pressured on only 27.3 percent of his throws this season, the sixth-lowest figure in the league. When opposing teams did manage to get pressure on him, though, his numbers collapsed, and that's a trend that goes back a few years now. Judging by his quarterback rating, Brady turns from Aaron Rodgers into Heath Shuler when opponents put pressure on him.

The Seahawks have the goods to bring pressure with the best of them. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are possibly the best duo of pass-rushing defensive ends in the league, and though Jordan Hill is out with an injury, guys like Bruce Irvin, Kevin Williams and O'Brien Schofield can help bring supplemental pressure from the edge and inside.

Of course, Brady is one of the NFL's best at countering pressure by getting rid of the ball quickly before it has a chance to hit home. He held the ball for an average of 2.39 seconds before throwing this season, second-fastest in the NFL to only Peyton Manning. When holding the ball for 2.5 seconds or less before delivering, Brady was unstoppable, completing 70.7 percent of his passes and registering a 101.1 quarterback rating. If he had to hold the ball longer than that, though, his completion percentage dropped down to 50.0 percent and his quarterback rating dipped to 89.3.

Posted by at January 31, 2015 7:47 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus