Tom Brady and the Dolphins challenge: Defense is on the clock

 

DAVIE — One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi.

That is universal language for anyone who has played backyard or street football. The count represents the three seconds a quarterback has before a defender is allowed to pass rush.

In the NFL, 3.7 seconds is roughly the estimated time a quarterback has to throw a football before pressure comes. Some struggle to find an open target before the pocket collapses and a pass rusher like Cameron Wake levels him.

Then there are some, like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who have a knack for making sure the ball's out of their hand right before pressure arrives.

"His jersey doesn't get dirty too often," defensive tackle Randy Starks admitted of Brady, a seven-time Pro Bowler who possesses a 105.2 quarterback rating entering Sunday's game against the Dolphins (5-6).

History has shown that the best way to beat the Patriots (8-3) is to get pressure on Brady. The Giants provided the blueprint, beating New England in the Super Bowl twice with that approach.

But few teams have been able to replicate it, getting Brady on the ground, making him uncomfortable in the pocket.

"They do a good job protecting the quarterback," coach Joe Philbin said of New England, which has allowed Brady to get sacked seven times in the Patriots' three losses this season. "They do a great job. He doesn't get hit a ton."

Actually, Brady has only been sacked 15 times this season, which breaks down to once every 29 attempts.

In the three seasons prior to this one, Brady has been sacked once every 24 attempts.

To put that in context so Dolphins fans can understand, Ryan Tannehill attempts 30 passes a game. Miami's rookie is sacked once every 17 attempts.

"Being in the NFL, your margin of error is so small. One step out of place, one step too late or too early and it makes a difference," said Wake, who has 9.5 sacks this season. "With teams like this, guys like Brady can capitalize on that one step, one second, one foot.

"That's what makes the OK good, and the good great."

And nobody in the Dolphins' locker room is disputing the greatness of Brady this week. Weakside linebacker Kevin Burnett went as far as labeling Brady one of the greatest quarterbacks of his lifetime. And the Dolphins veterans would know firsthand considering they face Brady twice a year since he's in their division.

"It's difficult," said Starks, who has registered two sacks and an interception against Brady in the nine games he's faced the Patriots. "They have that quick game [passing attack] where if he feels something, he's getting the ball out to Wes Welker. Everyone knows it, they just can't stop it. At the same time, he does hold onto the ball. If we keep at it we'll have our chances."

According to the Dolphins, the key to disrupting Brady is not allowing him to identify the blitzes early (show your hand and you're in trouble), apply pressure from the interior of the defensive line and don't over-pursue on the outside.

Wake learned that lesson in last year's season opener when Nate Solder kept falling on him — technically not holding — during his all-out edge rushes, which typically feature him attacking with low leverage. In that game, the Patriots used Wake's unique, get-low technique against him.

According to defensive end Jared Odrick, the key to Brady's success is his ability to step up in the pocket. He claims New England's offensive line doesn't over-pursue edge rushers like Wake. They allow them to go wide and then give a "hinge push" to allow Brady time and the opportunity to step up.

Next thing you know, the ball is out of his hand and usually thrown with pinpoint accuracy.

"He will hold the ball. He's not afraid to sit in the pocket," Odrick said. "He's not overly mobile, but the ball gets out quick. I don't know the seconds, but I know I better get there."

Try the three Mississippi approach and you'll probably have an accurate get-to-Brady count.

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