3 Ways the Eagles Can Slow Down Tom Brady in Wild Card Game vs. Bucs

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2022

3 Ways the Eagles Can Slow Down Tom Brady in Wild Card Game vs. Bucs

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    The good news for the Philadelphia Eagles is that Nick Sirianni has taken the team to the playoffs in his first season as head coach. The bad news is they'll be seeing Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round. 

    Brady is never a guy you're too excited to see in the playoffs. After all, he is 34-11 as a starter in the postseason and guided the Bucs to a Super Bowl ring last year. 

    Still, the Eagles aren't just going to pack up and go home. They played Tampa Bay tough during the regular season, dropping a 28-22 game at Lincoln Financial Field that moved Philly to 2-4. 

    It's reasonable to believe the Eagles can again keep it close. They are playing much better football now than they were at the beginning of the season, and the Bucs have lost key contributors such as Antonio Brown, who torched the Philadelphia secondary for nine catches and 93 yards. 

    Here are three keys that will help them as they try to slow down Brady and pull the upset. 

Front Four Must Win Their Pass-Rush Matchups

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    Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon's defense does not depend on the blitz to create pressure. The Eagles were among the most conservative teams in the league when it comes to bringing extra rushers this season. 

    That's probably a good thing. Bringing pressure is a strategy that's been tried on Brady plenty of times and rarely works. 

    Finding a way to get to the 44-year-old without sacrificing extra bodies in coverage is crucial, though. In 13 wins this season, he has only been sacked 10 times. That includes the win over the Eagles in which he kept a clean jersey the whole game. 

    In the Bucs' four losses, Brady has been sacked 12 times for an average of three per game. 

    The Eagles have struggled to get to the quarterback all season. They are 31st in sacks this season, with Javon Hargrave (7.5) and Josh Sweat (7.5) being the only two who have consistently posed a threat. 

    If they all have a quiet day again, Brady will sit back and pick the defense apart. 

Take Gronkowski out of the Gameplan

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    Brady leaning on Rob Gronkowski down the stretch is not a new phenomenon. The two have a long history of chemistry. But without Antonio Brown on the roster, the veteran quarterback has been dependent on his former New England teammate to keep the passing game going. 

    Over the last two weeks of the season, Brady has targeted Gronkowski 10 times in both games, resulting in 14 catches for 252 yards. 

    Mike Evans posts a legitimate threat on the outside and can't be discounted, but taking away the veteran tight end is like removing Brady's bread and butter. The 32-year-old's ability to work the middle of the field provides a consistent source of yards. 

    Again, this is an area where a season-long weakness for Philly lines up with a strength for the Bucs. The Eagles defense gave up the second-most fantasy football points per game to TEs. 

    While the Eagles defense is typically built on deep zones that force offenses to move the ball up the field, they may want to sprinkle in more underneath-focused coverages that will at least force Brady to go elsewhere with the ball. 

Sustained Offensive Drives

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    While the defense can help itself by getting to the quarterback and putting the focus on Gronkowski, it takes a whole team effort to slow down Brady. But the offense can play a role, too. 

    The biggest difference between the Eagles team beaten by the Bucs earlier in the season and the Philadelphia side that is now in the playoffs comes in the offense.

    Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen pointed to the Thursday night loss to Tampa Bay as a turning point in the season, per Mike Greger of Heavy.com. 

    Up to that point in the season, the run game was not featured in the offense. Miles Sanders had just nine carries in the loss. 

    With the full season behind them, the Eagles are now the No. 1 team in rush rate. The Bucs have been stingy against the run, allowing just 92.5 yards per game. 

    If Philadelphia can use its run game to sustain drives, it could be the biggest factor for its defense. If Brady has to sit on the bench for long stretches, it becomes more difficult to develop a rhythm and establish a flow offensively. 

    Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.