There is no denying it looked way too easy for Tom Brady the first time the Eagles played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brady finished that game 34/42 for 297 yards, two touchdowns and one interception without being sacked a single time. Brady picked apart the Eagles’ defense leading to frustration from the fans about what was viewed as a soft, passive defense.
In reality, the Eagles brought 10 blitzes on Brady that day on his 42 drop backs, right around 25% of the passing snaps. Brady completed 8/10 passes against the 10 blitzes, throwing for 80 yards and one touchdown.
Where the Eagles did have success in slowing Brady down that night was when they got organic pressure from the front four. When Brady was under pressure, but not through a blitz, he completed 5/9 passes and threw his only interception of the game.
Brady picking apart blitzes, but struggling with defenders dropping back and the front four creating pressure, has been a theme all season.
Here is a look at Brady’s best five games of the season, according to passer rating, compared to his five worst. Look at the difference in the amount of times he was blitzed:
Best 5 Games:
New Orleans: 11 (first game)
Avg Blitzes: 11.8
Worst 5 Games:
New Orleans: 4 blitzes (second game)
New York Giants: 9
Avg Blitzes: 7.4
A perfect look at how blitzing Brady is a mistake is his two matchups with the Saints. In the first matchup the Saints blitzed Brady 11 times and gave up 27 points. In the second matchup they blitzed him only four times. They gave up zero points.
Of course, it isn’t that simple. There are lots of reasons the Saints shut the Buccaneers out the second time. The numbers, however, don’t lie — and Brady has been at his worst this season when he isn’t blitzed. Brady struggling more when he isn’t blitzed makes sense. He has been in the NFL for 22 years. He has seen every blitz there is. No defensive coordinator is going to trick Brady. But no amount of experience can make up for the Eagles defensive line getting consistent pressure on their own.
An Eagles defensive game plan of dropping seven defenders back and hoping their front-four get pressure might not be fun to watch, but it might be the most effective, even against a very good Buccaneers offensive line. The Eagles didn’t blitz much all season. They finished the regular season 31st in the NFL in blitzing. Part of that is because of personnel. They don’t really have any great athletes to blitz with. The main reason is they don’t want to get burned on the blitz, and instead want to make teams go 8, 9, 10 plays to try to score on them.
Trying to switch up what they have been all season and turn into a blitz-happy team against Brady is a recipe for disaster. The reality is that slowing down the Buccaneers is going to be extremely hard. The Buccaneers have been held under 27 points only four times this year. Anything under 30 points should be considered a decent outcome for the Eagles’ defense.
One way to guarantee things get ugly, however, is trying to blitz Brady.
You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org