Hannable: Key matchup in Super Bowl LIII will be Wade Phillips vs. Tom Brady

Ryan Hannable
January 24, 2019 - 10:17 pm
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FOXBORO -- Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is no stranger to the Patriots.

The 71-year-old has faced Tom Brady nine times over the course of his career with a number of different teams and has had a fair amount of success. While his teams have only won three of the nine games, he’s been able to frustrate the Patriots quarterback a little bit.

Brady has completed 58 percent of his passes, averaged 297.9 yards per game, and totaled 21 touchdown to seven interceptions for a quarterback rating of 91.2 in those contests. But, Phillips' defenses have had some very good games, including limiting Brady to under 225 yards passing twice.

Most recently, that occurred in 2016 when the Patriots traveled to Denver and Brady finished with only 188 yards passing. He also had one of his worst playoff games against Phillips and the Broncos in the 2015 AFC title game. His 48.2 completion percentage was the second-worst he's ever had in a playoff game, and same with his 56.4 QB rating.

Bill Belichick was full of praise when asked about Phillips on Thursday.

“Wade does a great job of utilizing his personnel and putting his players in position to be productive and make plays,” he said. “So, when he had Von Miller, he didn’t change what he did, just the volume and the percentages shifted to accentuate a player like that or Aaron Donald or whoever it happens to be. Certainly, there’s an element of game planning and how he plays one team or another team varies, but it’s within the system that he has. I don’t think he’s out there drawing up a lot of new defenses. I think he has a menu and he selects the ones that fit best against his opponent and the situations as the situations come up in that game.”

Belichick also noted Phillips’ style hasn’t changed much at all since he was the Saints’ defensive coordinator in the mid-80s.

“He’s been doing it for 30 years in multiple organizations with multiple groups of players against every kind of offense he could see,” Belichick said. “I remember dealing with him when I was in Cleveland. And to his credit, there’s not many of us that have a system that can last that long. I’ve certainly changed a lot in the last 30 years schematically. Wade really hasn’t, he really hasn’t. You’ve got to give him credit for that.”

It’s worth pointing out when Phillips gets a talented defense, that is when he’s at his best against Brady because he can utilize his players best within his scheme. This adds up when you look at Brady’s stats against Phillips in the playoffs.

While Brady is 2-1 against him, he has a completion percentage of 53.7 and has thrown six touchdowns to five interceptions for a QB rating of 72.8 in those postseason games. That isn't great when you consider Brady has a career postseason QB rating of 90.9 and is competing 63.3 percent of his passes.

This Rams defense certainly fits the talented category and allows Phillips to work his magic.

Up front, there’s the best defensive tackle in the game in Aaron Donald, who has 20.5 sacks on the year and can get after the quarterback up the middle, which is usually when Brady is most vulnerable. There’s also Ndamukong Suh, who had his fair share of success against Brady when he was with the Dolphins. Also, don’t sleep on linebacker Dante Fowler, who has had some solid games of late.

The secondary is very good as well. Safety John Johnson has 119 tackles, the second-most on the team, and also a team-leading four interceptions. Then they have two of the best cornerbacks in the league in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, who can cover anyone with the best of them. They will certainly make the Patriots wide receivers and Brady work.

Typically, players are the ones who decide games, but Super Bowl LIII could come down to Brady vs. Phillips. And if history is any indication of how it will go, it could be a tough matchup for the 41-year-old.

Related: Super Bowl LIII Thursday injury report: Rams list three players, while Patriots have none

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