By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Atlanta Falcons have a Brady problem.
As the New England Patriots get ready for Atlanta in the Super Bowl, it’s becoming clear that both teams have a significant challenge in front of them on the defensive side of the ball. But even if Bill Belichick can’t quite come up with the kind of gameplan that can stymie Matt Ryan and the high-powered Falcons offense, you can at least feel confident that he will come up with something tailored to slowing their particular offense down.
Can Quinn and Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith do the same with their defense against Tom Brady?
One thing’s certain: Quinn can’t do what Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers did last Sunday in the AFC Championship Game when they trotted out the same old soft zones that Brady had already shredded almost every time he had faced Pittsburgh. It was shocking to precisely no one that Brady once again torched the Steelers defense to the tune of 384 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
What Quinn and his defensive staff also cannot do in Super Bowl LI is what he himself did in Super Bowl XLIX when he was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Brady picked that defense apart, too, especially in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. Despite throwing two of the worst interceptions of his career, Brady decidedly had himself a night in that game.
Quinn simply cannot roll that same defensive gameplan out in the Super Bowl. He has to adjust and do what has worked against Brady in the past – and yes, there is a “blueprint” for how to slow the Patriots offense down. Brady may be the best quarterback in NFL history, but he’s not impervious to all defenses. Not everyone has the personnel and coaching smarts to pull it off, but it’s not impossible.
For at least half of the closer-than-expected AFC Divisional Playoff, the Houston Texans made life difficult for Brady in a similar fashion to other teams that have had success against him in the past. They got consistent pressure up the middle with just three or four rushers up front while the rest of the defense flooded the middle of the field and played tight man-to-man coverage across the board. You saw the Broncos pull this off in last year’s AFC Championship Game, and other playoff losses to the Ravens and Rex Ryan-coached Jets saw a similar plan executed well.
The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin used his weekly film study to largely break down the Falcons defense in an effort to figure out if they have what it takes to slow Brady down. Despite a few minor differences, Quinn is essentially trying to replicate the Seahawks defense with the Falcons.
If the Falcons don’t switch things up on defense – which they did not do against the Seahawks or Packers – you can expect them to line up four down linemen, play press coverage at corner, and keep a single deep safety in the center of the field. If all Brady has to do is check the film of the Falcons’ last two games to be able to diagnose what they’re doing, he will pick them apart up and down the field.
Greg Bedard of the MMQB told Felger & Mazz in his weekly appearance on Tuesday that they were “seriously underestimating” Quinn and his ability to tailor his gameplan to specific opponents. He noted that the Falcons did do some things different schematically with their defense against the Packers from what they did against the Seahawks. Against Brady and the Patriots, such adjustments on defense will be imperative.
The Falcons are likely going to score their points in this game. But if they want to have any hope of actually beating the Patriots, they will need to do something different on defense. They will need to switch it up. Whether or not Quinn has the smarts and the personnel to pull it off will not be known until they take the field on Super Bowl Sunday.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.