ASHBURN — Chase Young said he can’t remember the first time he watched Tom Brady play quarterback. Who could blame him? The six-time Super Bowl champion was drafted just a year after Young was born — meaning Young, now 21, grew up with Brady a fixture on television.
And in particular, every January, it seemed, Young watched Brady pick apart defenses as defenders failed to take him down. Brady’s playoff success with the New England Patriots was akin to a rerun that aired on a loop.
Now, after publicly calling him out, Young is in a position where he and the rest of the defensive line must be the ones to stop Brady when Washington hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday at 8:15 p.m in the wild card round.
Despite Brady’s near-constant success — he’s 30-11 in the postseason — teams have occasionally knocked off Brady with tremendous amounts of pressure. Look at the way the New York Giants upset him twice in the Super Bowl, or how the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos knocked him out of the AFC championship. Even this year, Brady’s first with Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers (11-5) have been rattled when the 43-year-old doesn’t have enough time to throw.
If Washington somehow pulls an upset, it will likely start with Young and the defensive line.
“Tom Brady? You don’t think I’m going to be excited to play against The G.O.A.T?” Young said, calling him the greatest of all time. “You trippin’.”
Most quarterbacks struggle against pressure. But the contrast with Brady is especially stark. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady completed only 43% of his throws under duress this season — while hitting 71% of his targets with a clean pocket. Brady’s 344 completions in a clean pocket lead the entire NFL, according to the analytics website.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line has done an excellent job in protecting Brady. Brady’s 610 pass attempts from a clean pocket are the second-most in the NFL, behind only Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Brady has been sacked just 21 times in 16 games. Thirteen of those came over the first nine games of the year when Brady was still adjusting to a new offense.
Washington’s defense, however, was built on the strength of its line up front. With five first-rounders, including Young, Washington was tied for fourth in the league with 48 sacks. According to Pro Football Reference, the team registered pressure on 25.6% of dropbacks — the sixth-best mark in the league. Washington generates most of that with its front four as the team ranks outside the top ten in blitz percentage at 32.4 (13th).
The problem with facing Brady is that the quarterback can easily dissect defenses because he’s so used to different types of looks, Washington coach Ron Rivera said. Tasked with coming up with a game plan to get to the 14-time Pro Bowler, Rivera said teams have to be “very judicious” with their approach and have to be “on your toes” at all times.
“You have to be able to disguise and disguise well,” Rivera said. “Your looks can’t be the same. All these little details that you just gotta understand in what you’re doing. … You’ve got to mix those looks up for him. He has seen it all.”
Rivera said he, like most of the football world, was truly surprised when Brady left New England this past offseason to sign with the Buccaneers. But after watching Tampa Bay, Rivera said he sees why. He noted the weapons — Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski — that Brady has at his disposal, talent that wasn’t available near the end of his Patriots tenure.
Brady, too, has gotten into a rhythm with the Buccaneers — overcoming growing pains to start the year. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians relies on a more vertical attack, a scheme that forced Brady to adjust. But by the end of the season, Brady finished with 4,633 yards for 40 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
The Buccaneers ended the season on a four-game winning streak in which Brady posted a 126.9 passer rating (12 touchdowns, 1 interception).
“I didn’t realize he was 43 because I’ll tell you, he throws the ball like he’s 23,” Rivera said. “He really does. He’s got the arm strength. He delivers a good ball. He’s still who he is. That’s the scary part. He may be that age, but he sure doesn’t play like it.”