In Week 4 of the 2012 season, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took the shotgun snap and read the Buffalo Bills defense. He patted the ball, keeping his eyes downfield as hard-charging defensive end Mario Williams came around the edge, with right tackle Sebastian Vollmer rerouting Williams the long way around the quarterback. Instinctively, Brady stepped up to avoid pressure, buying himself enough time to find tight end Rob Gronkowski wide open downfield running a flag pattern.
That whole sequence of events took 3.7 seconds. That's barely a wrinkle in time for you and me, but it's an eternity for an NFL quarterback to read a defense. The Bills aren't going to beat the Patriots by allowing Brady to read their defense for that long. They have to force the issue.
In the Bills' two meetings with the Patriots in 2012, they pressured Brady on just 20 of his 77 dropbacks (25.97 percent) and logged just two sacks, both in the first meeting.
Considering Brady was pressured on 25 percent of his dropbacks for the 2012 season, the Bills actually performed better than the league average. That being said, one only needs to look at the numbers to know that the Bills need to do a better job of pressuring Brady if they're to come away with a win over the Patriots.
The answer is easy; the execution is not.
Brady routinely makes opposing defensive coordinators regret the decision to send extra men on the rush. In fact, it's gotten to the point where they don't even try anymore. Brady was blitzed on 25.5 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest average in the NFL for a starting quarterback.
To provide some perspective, the league average for sending five rushers or more in 2012 was 31.5 percent. The Bills, with the vanilla defensive scheme of former coordinator Dave Wannstedt, blitzed a measly 17.5 percent of the time, or just more than half the league average.
No surprise, the Bills barely blitzed Brady at all, and even when they did, they were hardly effective with it.
In fact, Brady threw four of his five touchdowns against Buffalo's blitz.
The Bills' blitz percentage against Brady worked out to 18.2 percent in two games last year, slightly more than their season average.
It's a wonder they blitzed at all after the first meeting, though, when Brady went 3-of-3 for 100 yards and two touchdowns when the Bills sent extra men on the rush.
It's pretty clear, then, what the Bills have to do to beat Brady: They must win up front with a four-man rush and play sound coverage on the back end. The Bills brought in former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to help draw up schemes to put more pressure on quarterbacks, but even Pettine has first-hand experience with how to beat Brady: by not blitzing.
In the 2010 AFC divisional round, the Jets blitzed Brady on 14 of 50 dropbacks (28 percent) and were able to hold Brady to a 61.8-percent completion rate, 6.3 yards per attempt, two touchdowns, an interception and an 87 passer rating when not blitzing.
They managed to get two sacks without a blitz, typically by way of solid downfield coverage, but they still used the blitz in a timely manner and logged three more sacks on 14 blitzes.
Unfortunately for Pettine, the Bills don't have the talent in the secondary that the Jets had with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie on the corners, and the Bills will also be without their top cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, for the Week 1 meeting between the two teams.
History tells us that if the Bills want to slow down the Patriots offense, it will be up to Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and some combination of Alex Carrington and Jerry Hughes to get the job done.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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