How the Saints became Tom Brady’s worst nightmare

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Tom Brady suffered his first shutout in 16 years against the Saints. Photo from USA Today.

Dennis Allen and the New Orleans Saints know something the rest of the NFL doesn’t. They know how to do Tom brady look average.

The Saints have won their four regular-season meetings with Brady since GOAT joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. Their most impressive victory came in Week 15 of the 2021 NFL season when the Saints won shutout Brady and the Bucs 9-0 at Raymond James Stadium.

It’s impossible to overstate how the ‘D’ Saints dominated the NFL’s most significant offense. The best way to sum up this latest Brady and Co. demolition is to look at these numbers from Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune:

Extraordinary Revelation: The Bucs haven’t played a single game in the Saints’ red zone. The closest they got in 73 games was the Saints’ 21. In fact, they only played 3 games all night inside the Saints’ 35. And the Bucs entered the game leading the NFL in offense and total offense.

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Just let it sink in. Three plays over the Saints 35-yard line. It was still an offense led by Tom Brady and Bruce Arians, right?

Well, that’s the catch. Critics will try to downplay the Saints’ efforts by pointing out the guns Brady lacked. Antonio brown was serving his suspension to have fake Covid-19 vaccination record. Third down Giovani bernard was placed on the casualty reserve with knee and hip problems.

Their absences were made worse when Brady’s main targets, the spreaders Chris godwin and Mike evans, started early with injuries in week 15. running back Leonard Fournette also joined the walking injuries during the match.

Brady wasn’t playing with a full clip, but it’s not like the Saints aren’t stopping Tampa Bay before the injuries get worse. It’s also true that Brady had Fournette, Godwin, Evans and Brown available when the Saints won 38-3 on the road in Week 9 last season.

There is a similarity between this game and the more recent routing from Brady’s Bucs. In both cases, New Orleans defensive coordinator Dennis Allen used an infallibly simple formula.


It only takes three or four

Allen leaned on his defensive line to put pressure, while dropping seven and eight defenders in densely populated cover shells. This is how the basic formula worked Last year:

Brady struggled against Onyemata’s inside pressure, making just one of 6 passes for 10 yards (1 sack). Brady completed 7 of 9 passes for 85 yards under pressure from defensemen other than Onyemata. #NOvsTB | #Saints

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Sorry, if you were hoping for a more sophisticated explanation. The point is, however, that it doesn’t matter how alien defensive schemes become. There is still no substitute for a relentless four-way run and a power play in the cover.

Those two things will always make even great quarterbacks look ordinary, and Brady is no exception. This is how the New York Giants beat him in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.

The Saints doubled on the same level. They’ve targeted the right areas to put pressure on Brady.

Notice how next gen stats highlighted Brady’s struggles against the defensive tackle David Onyemata in 2020? Pressure in the middle will always be a bane for a quarterback barely known for his elusive pocket-friendly.

Allen let go of Onyemata again on Sunday, December 19, but he also changed defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) inside to great effect:

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Jordan has been a devastator all night. If he was not lined up next to Onyemata, he would take his place next to the rush end Marcus Davenport.

This simple ploy put the Saints’ two best passer on the same side. It also put the Bucs’ offensive line at a standstill.

They could either slide the protection towards Jordan and Davenport and risk letting a rusher on the other side break free. Alternatively, the Bucs could overtake either team Jordan or Davenport and risk letting the other dominate a one-on-one clash.

Just by moving his linemen, Allen created more havoc than he would with any blitz call. It helped Jordan win wherever he lined up and play with an already elite attacking tackle Tristan wirfs:

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Jordan and Davenport’s double act helped keep Brady under siege throughout the game. Their pressure was only part of the story, however.

Cover the middle

Coverage wasn’t just a matter of outnumbering Brady’s targets. The scheme had to be adapted to eliminate the areas where he likes to throw.

For Brady, those areas are in the middle of the field. He is the master of the use of the spaces between the sharps. It means crossing patterns and inclines.

The Saints suppressed these breaking roads by flooding the interior areas. Linebackers and safeties are often stacked in the line, only to jump into the hook and loop areas or play thief below to intercept any late cruisers.

That meant area coverage most of the time, but Allen was smart enough to polish his scheme. Concretely, he knew Rob gronkowski required special attention.

This attention usually came from the middle linebacker. Demario davis or security Malcolm jenkins. The latter is one of the few who can effectively body the Gronk.

Jenkins lacks something that most defenders have when they go up against the tight end who is a force of nature. Namely, Jenkins has no fear factor. He mixed him up with Gronkowski, cornering him in the line and hand-fighting throughout his routes.

The Saints’ physical approach meant Brady was rarely able to connect with his benchmark receiver in clutch situations. These figures of NFL Historian Dan Daly portray the night of Gronkowski’s contested captures and missed opportunities:

How out of the ordinary was the #Bucs passing game last night? Rob Gronkowski was thrown 11 passes and only caught 2. The last receiver to have more than 11 targets and 2 or fewer strikes in a game – #WFT fans will love this – was Josh Doctson in 2017. https://t.co/J8bTKzqOBm
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As the game progressed, the Saints were content to play a men’s cover away against the Bucs’ backup receivers. No more Tyler johnson nor Scotty Miller could not win against the New Orleans cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Marshon Lattimore.

Shutting down outside receivers meant safeties could cheat in the middle and take away Gronkowski and his other close end. Cameron Brate. It’s no coincidence that Brady’s main receiver was Fournette, with seven catches. His running backs checkdowns were all Saints allowed in Brady.

They didn’t allow him to get out easily when it was most important, according to ESPN Statistics and Information:

Tom Brady was sacked 4 times on 3rd down for the first time since 2002. It’s tied for the most sacks of this guy in a game of his career.

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There is no mystery as to how or why the Saints got Brady’s number. They know what it takes to beat him.

Keep up the pressure, but never rush more than four. Drop seven or eight and own the midfield. Forget the interior roads Brady loves when the going gets tough.



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