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Getting to Tom Brady more than just a fight against time

Posted Jan 20, 2016

The Broncos will have to prevent Tom Brady from making quick passes to ensure their pass rush has an impact in the AFC Championship Game.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the time that it takes an average person to read this sentence, Tom Brady would have time to throw about three passes.

In the Patriots' 16 regular season games and one postseason game, Brady takes an average of 2.34 seconds to throw, per profootballfocus.com. In wins, the number drops to 2.29 seconds and in New England's four losses, the number rises to 2.65 seconds.

It's not so much that Brady's line isn't giving him enough time, but that he makes his reads quickly and he only needs those two seconds and change to make a decision. This, obviously, has the potential to neutralize a robust pass rush.

It did so a week ago against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs, who had won 11 consecutive games before walking onto the field at Gillette Stadium. With Pro Bowl outside linebacker Justin Houston unable to play more than eight snaps, the Chiefs' pass rush had little bite, registering just one quarterback hit and zero sacks. Brady needed just 2.19 seconds to throw, and he completed 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

To avoid a similar fate, the Broncos know they cannot allow Brady to have such comfort.

"You've got to try to get your hands up and get to him as fast as you can or run to the ball and make tackles," defensive end Malik Jackson said. "So, a quarterback can try to throw it fast on us if they respect our rush, as they should, but we've just got to try to make plays different ways if they want to get rid of the ball fast."

What makes that challenge so much more difficult this time, as opposed to the Week 12 matchup, is that Brady will have wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman back on the field. The tandem missed that game with a knee and foot injury, respectively, but it made its return against Kansas City, giving Brady more dangerous targets in addition to tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Part of the danger of those targets is that it doesn't take long for them to get open. With his size, speed and athleticism, Gronkowski can be a tough cover at any point after the snap, and the other two receivers can break off their route trees for quick yardage that gets even more perilous after the catch.

Edelman is a particularly big key in this element of timing for Brady. In games with Edelman this season (Weeks 1-10 and the playoff game against Kansas City), Brady averages 2.21 seconds, but without him, Brady takes 2.55 seconds. All four of the Patriots' losses were without Edelman, and Brady was sacked 17 times over seven games.

Ultimately, what forcing Brady to hold onto the ball longer might not be the dependent on the quickness of the pass rush so much as the coverage.

"With a guy like Brady, you've got to be able to have good corners—which we have—that can give the pass rush a little more extra time to get there, because if he's getting the ball off in 1.9 seconds, nobody's going to ever get to him," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "You can see that from the Kansas City game, in which they had Tamba Hali and they had [Justin] Houston, and they still couldn't get there. So you've got to be able to have those corners to just buy you a little more extra time to get to him."

And if that happens, then it's up to defensive linemen and outside linebackers to ensure that an opportunity for a sack or deflected pass doesn't elude them.

"We're just going to have be tight in the secondary and that little window that we get—me and DeMarcus, [DE Derek] Wolfe and Malik—we're just going to have to get there," OLB Von Miller said. "[OLB] Shaq [Barrett], everybody — we're just going to have to get there. It's one of those games that you can't make excuses; we've got to get our hands up, bat down some balls and we've just got to get there, plain and simple."