As the Patriots prepare for their playoff showdown with the Texans on Sunday, they're likely focusing on the fact that Houston is the most aggressive defense in the league. They sent extra pass rushers on 46.9 percent of dropbacks in the regular season. In their blowout loss to New England in Week 14, Houston sent extra rushers on more than half of Tom Brady’s dropbacks, and he finished 13-of-19 for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
Overall, Brady’s success against added pressure is obvious. This season, Brady posted a +20 TD-Int differential (20 TD, 0 Int) against at least five pass rushers, and no other quarterback in the last five years has thrown 20 touchdowns alone against extra rushers.
Part of Brady’s success is in getting the ball out quickly. No quarterback in the league has a shorter average time before pass than Tom Brady (3.03 seconds, NFL average is 3.46). The quick-release timing routes work well against added pressure, but teams have success dropping those extra defenders into coverage and disrupting Brady’s internal clock.
There is precedent for a heavy-blitzing 3-4 defense playing aggressively in the regular season against Brady and losing, then meeting again in the postseason and winning. The 2009 Ravens and 2010 Jets both lost regular-season meetings and gained redemption in the playoffs, but they had to adjust their strategy:
* Baltimore sent at least five rushers on 21 of 37 dropbacks (56.8 percent) in a Week 4 loss. Brady finished 14 of 20 for 167 yards and the game-winning touchdown against added pressure, and was sacked only once.
* In their playoff rematch, the Ravens sent extra rushers on 10 of 45 dropbacks (22.2 percent), and Brady’s overall numbers in Baltimore’s playoff win were 23 of 42, 154 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Brady also was sacked three times and fumbled on New England’s opening drive, setting up the Ravens at the NE 17-yard line.
* New York sent at least five rushers in their two regular-season meetings on 30 of 69 dropbacks (43.5 percent), with Brady finishing 18 of 28 for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Though the Jets won their first meeting of the season in Week 2, New England won 45-3 in Week 13 on Monday Night Football, highlighted by Brady’s 8-of-13, 199-yard, 3-TD performance against added pressure.
* In the playoffs, the Jets sent extra pressure on 6 of 50 dropbacks (12.0 percent), and Brady was sacked five times in New York’s win, finishing 29 of 45 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
If history holds, committing extra pass rushers on Sunday would not be wise for Wade Phillips and the Texans’ defense. Those defenders would be better served dropping into coverage and taking away quick-to-develop routes, like the 2009 Ravens and 2010 Jets did in previous playoff victories.