Obviously, all parts of the defense will need to be clicking in order to slow down Brady and the dink-and-dunk offense that looks very similar to the one they ran during their Superbowl runs. This offense put up a ton of points, on the road, vs. the Steelers, which is extremely impressive. The Steelers not only have a better defense than the Colts do, but also a clock-eating type offense (power running game) that actually give their defense the chance(s) to rest up before the next series. Simply put, the first step in our defense succeeding is insuring that our offense can stay on the field and start putting up points early on, cuz as we all know, or defense playing with the lead is pretty diesel. However, excluding the dependency of our offense performing well and keeping Mrs. Brady on the sidelines, the defense must step up their game at a position-by-position level to succeed as a whole. Below is a breakout (in order) of who needs to step it up most -
Antonio Johnson & Dan Muir - The tone will be set with these 2 big guys; this means stopping the run game, nullifying Brady's prolific play-action game. As we know, the Pats will use short passes and the run game and all of a sudden throw a bomb to Tate, catching the secondary cheating to stop the run/short-pass. More importantly than stopping the run, it starts with these 2 guys getting pressure on Brady. I know, Freeney and Mathis sound like the obvious answer in terms of pressure, but keep in mind, much like Peyton, Brady has incredible pocket presence and is tough to sack with the outside rushers; he hates pressure coming down the barrel, because there is so little room to work with and step into his throws, and if he decides to move outside the pocket, this is where our 2 DE's will get their sacks...Pressure Down the Middle all day...even if it means leaving our secondary a little more vulnerable by blitzing between the middle gaps.
Freeney & Mathis - The question is, "Who wins the battle between these 2 exceptional Ends and 2 of the best Tackles in the league?" Simply put, it has to be our 2 defensive ends. I love the spin moves, I love the outside rushes, however, these 2 guys cannot lose contain on the RB's by taking themselves out of the play. I'd love to see more inside moves and bull rushes unless the situational down is 3rd and long...outside rushes against a team that can utilize a screen pass like no one else in the league and an incredible offense line can lead to our defense giving up big chunks of yards at a time and keeping Manning on the sideline...we cannot afford to do that, because the Patriots will put up points.
Our LBs - I cannot tell who will be playing based on the injury report, however, these guys will have a huge task in containing 2 very good tight-ends. As we saw last week, Brady abused an aggressive Steelers defense by getting his TE in one-on-one match-ups time and time again....Although Angerer is significantly smaller than the 2 TE's, I feel that he does have the speed to keep up with them, and seeing that none of our LBs are big enough, I'd rather see someone who is in position to make a play, and if they get outjumped, then we have to live with it. However, if the D-line can get the pressure necessary, then we might see Brady making throws off his back-foot and not stepping into his passes which might enable our speedy LB's to undercut routes and make breaks on the ball. The other important assignment here is defending against the screen pass...whichever side the running back is lines up on, the OLB must keep contain first and foremost and fight off any blocks to minimize gains on the screen passes. An additional rusher in the form of a LB blitz can also help our secondary be in position to make plays, however, it is crucial that whoever is blitzing gets to Brady and does not get caught up in the mash-up of O-Linemen vs. D-Linemen...a failed blitz against the Pats is pretty much a big play waiting to happen.
Powers & Hayden - Tough match-ups against 2 very skilled receivers in Branch and Welker; as a matter of fact, I emailed Powers a few days ago regarding who the toughest receiver in the NFL to cover was, and he said Welker...so, it will be interesting as to how these match-ups pan out. These 2 receivers will get their catches, but the most important part of our 2 CB's game is going to be tackling right away....Pats kill teams in getting their guys to make more yards with YAC...this simply cannot happen...tackle well and tackle hard.
Bethea and Francisco - Our safeties will need to use balance between run/screen support and the deep ball threat in Tate. Brady is going to try and get them to start creeping closer to the LOS, and once a few dumps work, you will see a play-action pass down the field with one of both of these guys biting...they have to play incredibly smart to avoid this...Tate isn't the deep ball threat that Moss was, however he does have speed to burn our secondary; we just need to make sure he is accounted for while still being in position to make tackles on the shorter passes and the run game.
In conclusion, I think everyone else's job will be made a whole lot easier if Johnson and Muir can dominate in the trenches....I know we always say Freeney and Mathis need to get pressure, but Brady's es-capability by taking a step in or out of the pocket to avoid the outside rush is phenomenal, however, as the Giants showed in the Superbowl, the pressure coming up the gut is where this elite QB starts getting rattled.