How did Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo thwart Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII?

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Charles Goldman
·4 min read
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is considered one of, if not the best quarterback to ever play the game. His career accolades read like a CVS receipt and include six Super Bowl wins and four Super Bowl MVPs. He’s certainly been the most successful quarterback in NFL history when it comes to winning the NFL’s annual spectacle.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is familiar with one of Brady’s few Super Bowl failings, though. The 2007 New England Patriots had a chance to go down as the greatest team of all-time, playing an undefeated season en route to Super Bowl XLII. Spagnuolo, who was then the Giants’ defensive coordinator, was the architect behind the defensive strategy that thwarted Brady and the Patriots.

Ahead of Super Bowl LII, when Brady’s Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, Spags joined NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” to talk about his gameplan for slowing down the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

“Well it’s funny,” Spagnuolo began. “Jessie Armstead teases me about this, but at one point during the week I said, ‘Look, it doesn’t matter whether we stop him from throwing it or not, let’s just make sure that we hit him.’ He told me this later, he said, ‘That doesn’t sound right.’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m not so sure that I was on board with that.’ But our guys bought into it and we hoped— the hope was that we could frustrate him a little bit. That was the first thing.”

If you go back and look at any time the Chiefs have found success against Tom Brady, it’s always been about getting pressure on him. Even prior to Spagnuolo’s arrival as defensive coordinator, look back to the 2014 Monday night massacre when Tamba Hali and Justin Houston got three sacks against Brady and the Patriots. Even the win in Week 12 earlier this season, the Chiefs hit Brady a total of eight times during the game.

For Spagnuolo’s Giants team, the pressure had to coincide with sound secondary play on the back end.

“The second thing was, let’s not give up passes over 20 yards,” Spagnuolo continued. “I mean everyone talks about explosive plays, right? And the guys did that too, I think they had one catch for 19 and two each for 18 yards.”

One thing that was also prudent for Spags’ defense that game, the ability to disguise what they wanted to do effectively prior to the snap. Brady is one of the best at deciphering matchups and exploiting coverages based on pre-snap looks.

“Let’s go back to the game we were talking about,” Spagnuolo said. “My recollection was — and I thought Dave Merritt, our secondary coach did a great job. Tom (Brady) likes to use the whole clock and so you know that going in, which means the ball is not going to be snapped until somewhere under ten [seconds]. So when we did disguise, Gibril Wilson and James Butler, they were using the clock. . . with Tom now, to me, it’s the things that he does before the snap. He can tempo, go real fast. It’s all about cadence to get guys to jump offside and he’s got a whole check system, I mean that’s what he lives in, that’s why he uses the whole clock. What he can do before the snap, to me is what is the most challenging.”

Merritt also happens to be the Chiefs’ secondary coach, by the way. Really, Brady will have a chance to avenge his Super Bowl XLII loss in a way against this Kansas City defense in Super Bowl LV. At the same time, Spagnuolo has the recipe for defeating Brady, he just needs to make sure that his guys study hard, buy-in, and go play a full 60-minute game against one of the best to ever do it.

“So just packaging those two together [hitting Brady and not giving up passes over 20 yards],” Spagnuolo said. “And listen, our guys went out and played lights out. They were inspired, played inspired football for 60 minutes and ended up winning the game.”

They shouldn’t be short on inspiration as they have a chance to make history in winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

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