FOXBORO - Gus Bradley would love to play a game of cat-and-mouse with Tom Brady on Sunday.
But Bradley knows that, at this point in his career, Brady will be the cat and Bradley’s Jags will be the mouse. And they will wind up dead on the front stoop.
“He’s seen so much and to go in there thinking you’re going to fool him...” Bradley said, trailing off. “You try to find some different things to do, some different looks to get some wins on certain downs and distances but I would say I’m sure he’s seen everything imaginable. You go into it and you have some tweaks that you’re going to do within your system. The number? We’ll see. But for the most part you’ve got to stay true to your teachings.”
Those teachings have been orchestrated by Bradley before in a game against the Patriots. In 2012, he was the defensive coordinator in Seattle when the Patriots and Seahawks played a tight one, with the Patriots losing, 24-23.
The fine print on the loss was that the Patriots threw all over the Seahawks, going 36-for-58 for 395. They blundered their way to the loss, coming away without points before halftime despite being first-and-goal at the Seahawks 9 with 19 seconds left and then Brady throwing an end-zone pick from the Seattle 6.
Bradley no doubt watched as the Patriots blistered the Seattle defense again in the Super Bowl eight months ago. He runs a similar defense in Jacksonville to the one that’s run in Seattle. Bradley knows he’s in for it.
“It’s the same [Patriots offensive system over a course of years], and he owns it,” said Bradley. “He comes up, he operates everything at the line of scrimmage, he recognizes coverage whether it’s zone or man, he will change the whole formation based on what he sees and he just takes what the defense gives him. And if you’re slow to line up, there’s an explosive play. So it’s really challenging. It’s a precision league. They run multiple different personnel groupings, multiple different formations and alignments and they do it with precision. Other teams in the league try to do it and have some success but they have success with this whole big variety of plays and packages and that’s what makes it really difficult to defend.”
The biggest difference between Seattle and Jacksonville is that one team is really talented and experienced and the other is not. Bradley now coaches the one that is not.
The presumption, based on how the Patriots have attacked this type of defense before, is that this will be another spread-it-out game where Brady throws 40 to 55 times.
But, with New England having made barely a modest effort at running the ball in its first two games, Bradley has to be aware they could decide to flip everything on a whim to screw with the Jags and go three tight ends with LeGarrette Blount pounding the ball.
Bradley spoke about the need to plan for two different styles.
“I think based on personnel that’s in the game, that’s what you do generally every week; you formulate a game plan and try to find out their tendencies and what they like to do and their personality over the years,” he explained. “It’s a tough game because you don’t study the previous four opponents. It’s a game that you study past experiences, you study former games and you try to get a feel that way. That is a challenge and you see it quite a few times where people get misaligned on tape and it causes opportunity for explosive plays. So I think it’s got to be something where you’ve got to understand what you do very, very well against this team. You go out there and have your team have a great understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish and keep it very fast.”
The Patriots try to stress defenses mentally with myriad personnel and formations all performed at turbo pace. Inevitably, there’s a breakdown in communication and that bust turns into a big play. Is simplifying things a smart approach?
“I think every team has their own philosophy going into it,” said Bradley. “I think you want to stay true to who you are. Obviously you’re going to have to have some options and things that may present different challenges, but also doing what you do is so important. We always talk about never putting things in that will take us out of playing fast. Again, it comes back that they are an unbelievable opponent and an unbelievable challenge for us, but it comes back to what we do and how we do it. That’s really the challenge for us.”