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Deep Eagles defense looks to run down Patriots’ Tom Brady

Updated February 3, 2018 - 6:35 pm

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Philadelphia Eagles remember the time.

Two weeks ago, the New England Patriots seemingly were on the ropes in the AFC championship game. Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus sacked Tom Brady for an 8-yard loss. The Jaguars led 20-10 with 11 minutes left in regulation. The pressure was on.

Then, it dissipated.

Brady was not hurried on second down, standing comfortably and hurling deep for wide receiver Chris Hogan. He was double covered. Incomplete. On third-and-18, Brady again was not hurried. He surveyed the coverage, stepped left and — 3.3 seconds after the snap, with time to spare — fired a 21-yard dart to wide receiver Danny Amendola.

Too much time.

No easy answer exists to contain Brady during Sunday’s Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. But the Eagles anticipate they can help their case by maintaining pressure on the future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. A deep rotation on the defensive line will look to steal time from the 40-year-old, who is vying for his sixth Lombardi Trophy.

Even if successfully reaching Brady, the Eagles know, there are no guarantees. According to Next Gen Stats, he paced the NFL with a 98.0 quarterback rating in the 2017 regular season on throws in which he was under pressure. The database defines “pressure” as the event of a defender being within 2 yards of a quarterback at the time of a throw.

On Saturday evening, Brady was named the AP’s Most Valuable Player for the third time in his career. He is a four-time Super Bowl MVP.

“Everybody says you’ve got to get pressure on Tom Brady, but even when the pressure’s on, he ain’t nervous a bit,” Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry said. “I don’t even think the dude be sweatin’ out there.”

Said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz: “I think that’s what makes him great. There isn’t that one thing (that stops him). He’s a well-rounded player. They’re a well-rounded offense. It’s not an offense where you can take one aspect away and render it ineffective. I think Brady is that same style of quarterback. He can beat you in a number of ways.”

Much like the Jaguars, the Eagles are not singular in their pass rush.

They offer a number of options from a four-man front, often able to create pressure without sending a fifth man as a blitzer. Defensive linemen Brandon Graham (60 pressures), Chris Long (51), Fletcher Cox (50), Curry (47) and Derek Barnett (37) were efficient at creating pressure. Graham saw a group-high 435 pass rush snaps, far from an overly heavy workload as the Eagles maintain an active rotation.

Schwartz likened his defensive line to a bullpen in baseball. Each arm is fresh, so he can cycle through his options and continue firing fastballs.

“At this point during the season, I think I’ve felt the best I’ve ever felt,” Eagles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “Not just with us going to the Super Bowl and those type of things, there’s been other (years) late in the season (when) you feel that wear and tear. But I think coach (Doug) Pederson (has) done a great job of just keeping guys fresh not even just in the game but throughout the week, doing whatever’s necessary to make sure we’re ready for Sunday.”

Slowing Brady will require a group effort.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson figures to match up often with receiver Amendola. A combination of players will attempt to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has been cleared to play from a second-quarter concussion in the AFC championship game. In that game, without Gronkowski, the Patriots extended the third-and-long drive and capped the series with a touchdown.

They won 24-20.

“You never know when that third-and-18 is coming,” Schwartz said. “It could be the key play to the game. That’s when the opportunity meets your preparation.”

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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