Everybody knows Tom Brady destroys the Cover 3. Why did the Chargers stick with their doomed game plan?

Alex Reimer
January 14, 2019 - 9:28 am

My only experience playing football comes from lining up as a cornerback in Boston’s FLAG Flag Football league and getting selected last for pickup games at recess. I watch every Patriots game and religiously tune into RedZone, but would rather spend an evening on the balcony with Gerry Callahan than dissect the All-22 breakdown. 

And even I could tell the Chargers were doomed with their soft Cover 3 defense. Everybody else could, too, at least judging by social media. Yet, Los Angeles defense coordinator Gus Bradley kept running it out there. Why?

Predictably, Tom Brady chewed up the zone coverage, completing 34-of-44 throws for 343 yards in the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Chargers. New England’s first drive was a clinic in precision, with Brady connecting on 7-of-8 passes during the 14-play, 83-yard sequence. His deepest throw traveled six air yards.

The Patriots scored touchdowns on five of their six drives in the first half and garnered more first downs (24) than the Chargers had plays (23) during the first two quarters of action. They averaged 8.2 yards per play when the Chargers put seven defensive backs on the field –– with Sony Michel chewing up LA for 129 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. 

As Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard notes, Brady is 7-1 against the Pete Carroll-designed Cover 3 defense since Super Bowl XLIX. The system has now spread to Atlanta, Jacksonville and San Francisco. 

Bradley was defensive coordinator of the vaunted Legion of Boom in Seattle, which Brady picked apart for 328 yards and four touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Two years later, Brady engineered a historic comeback against the Falcons’ Cover 3, implemented by head coach Dan Quinn, another Carroll disciple, completing 43-of-62 passes for 466 yards and two scores. 

James White caught 14 passes for 110 yards in that contest and secured 15 receptions for 97 yards on Sunday. The running back became the first player in NFL postseason history with at least 12 catches in multiple games.

Julian Edelman, who caught nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX, reeled in nine passes for 151 yards against the Chargers. History repeated itself in multiple ways Sunday. 

The Patriots dismantled the zone defense the same way they always have. Somehow, the Chargers didn’t see it, and failed to switch up. Other NFL defensive backs watching the game were shocked at the stubborn behavior.

“TB12 has been doing this since I was in diapers!!,” Jets safety Jamal Adams tweeted. “You sitting in zone all game, best believe he will tear you apart!! You have to wrinkle in man   switch it up on him, & disguise!!”

Former Patriots corner Logan Ryan was equally unimpressed. “Chargers thought they was gonna go into Foxboro running the same zone defense every play against TB12,” he wrote. “Now they down so they gotta go man to man which they don’t do #UhOh.”

Uh-oh, indeed. We could all see the Chargers were doomed, except the people who were calling their plays.