Washington Football Team Defense Shuts Down Tom Brady

Washington Football Team Defense

The remit was clear: shut down Tom Brady and defeat the defending Super Bowl champions. Simple, right? To the shock of many, the much-maligned Washington Football Team defense made it look easy in Week 10. Washington stunned Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 29-19, thanks largely to a dominant defensive effort.

How the Washington Football Team Defense Shut Tom Brady Down

Head coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Jack Del Rio had been waiting for this performance all season. The unit they built finally played to its talent level because of a simple premise. That premise was to dominate the middle. It didn’t matter if it was the middle of the Bucs O-line or the middle of Tampa’s route tree, Washington defenders owned the central areas. In doing so, they forced Brady to attempt the throws few quarterbacks like. Namely, those to the outside that often lead to incompletions or turnovers.

Brady was picked twice during the first half by Bobby McCain and William Jackson III. The first wasn’t exactly Brady’s fault, coming via a tip after a jarring hit by Kamren Curl sent the ball into Jackson’s grateful mitts. Jackson’s been a bust since arriving from the Cincinnati Bengals during free agency, so this play was overdue:

Doubling Inside Receivers and Routes

Something else stood about Jackson’s takeaway. Notice how Brady had a trips look, three receivers, to his left. The nearest receiver in the slot was bracketed by linebackers Cole Holcomb (55) and Jamin Davis (52). Doubling Brady’s inside receivers was the theme of Washington’s coverage scheme. It also happened when Brady was intercepted again.

The Buccaneers showed stacks on both sides of the formation, with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans bunched to Brady’s right. Evans (13), Tampa Bay’s primary big-play threat, was lined up inside, ready to run a shallow cross:

Holcomb, playing the Mike, carried Evans up the field, while McCain rotated from his deep safety position to bracket the route. Brady, under intense pressure amid a crumbling pocket, threw straight into the double team with inevitable results. This was one of many moments where the Washington defense resembled a skewer stuck straight through the heart of the Bucs offense.

Jonathan Allen Tormented TB12

Matching coverage with pressure was the key. Washington didn’t play much complementary defense through eight games, but Del Rio’s group finally got the balance right on Sunday. Fittingly, Jonathan Allen was the key man along a marauding front.

Allen’s signed a bumper new contract in July and is paying it back with a banner season. Any time a team shows a player the money there’s always a fear the recipient may start phoning it in after signing the lucrative deal. Fortunately, Allen has dispelled any such worries by elevating his game to a level close to the elite guys at his position. We’re not making comparisons with the likes of Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner just yet, but Allen has the upper echelons firmly in his sights after toying with Brady’s protection.

Allen hit Brady to stop the first Bucs drive and lay down an early marker:

No member of the Tampa Bay interior O-line was able to handle No. 93 one-on-one. He switched up his victims as the game wore on, bossing guards Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen:

Pressure up the middle has always been key to beating Brady. Moving the GOAT off his spot is what every defense strives to do, but few units manage. The New York Giants did it in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI because Justin Tuck lived in Brady’s grid square. Allen’s efforts also gave Brady happy feet and shook the 44-year-old’s usually icy coolness under fire.

Allen Softened Chase Young Blow

Allen ensured Washington kept the pressure on even after Chase Young left the field with a knee injury. Rivera confirmed on Monday the second-overall pick in 2020 tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Del Rio’s resources on the edges were already stretched after Young’s bookend, Montez Sweat, had been placed on injured reserve because of a jaw injury. Allen saved a depleted line from more criticism for failing to live up to expectations.

One of his linemen consistently winning matchups allowed Del Rio to commit extra bodies to coverage. It also meant he could be creative, yet selective, with the blitz. Del Rio sensibly targeted the middle whenever he sent additional rushers:

The combination of a relentless rush and smothering coverage made Brady look less than ordinary. In fact, Washington’s defensive dominance produced some staggering numbers, like Brady’s passer rating being “a mere 30 after 30 minutes of action,” according to NBC’s Peter Hailey. Or how Brady “completed just two passes that traveled 15-plus yards,” per Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon. The Bucs also converted just four of 10 third downs against what had been the worst pass defense in football.

Mitigating Factors

Rivera’s 2-6 team was mightily impressive against the reigning the champs, but there were mitigating factors. Like Brady struggling without go-to targets Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, both of whom have missed significant time.

The Bucs are also finding ways to lose, like committing two turnovers and six penalties at FedExField. Two weeks ago, Tampa committed three takeaways and 11 penalties in a loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Head coach Bruce Arians is angry, but he should be worried:

The Bucs did their part, but Washington made them look vulnerable. Del Rio’s defense suffocated Brady and his receivers, while the running game finally showed up. Washington ran the ball 34 times, with Antonio Gibson lugging the rock 24 times and rushing for two touchdowns. In total, coordinator Scott Turner’s offense held the ball for 39:08 and kept Brady off the field. This has to be the blueprint moving forward.

So does a defensive effort marrying smart coverage with relentless pressure where quarterbacks hate them most: the middle.

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