McCarthy: Cowboys’ high-energy defense won’t ‘try to play chess with Tom Brady’

·5 min read

When the Cowboys faced the Buccaneers to open the 2021 season, the Dallas defense didn’t log a single sack of quarterback Tom Brady. That’s something head coach Mike McCarthy is hoping to change this Sunday when the two teams meet once again to kick off their regular seasons.

Of course, a few things will have changed in the 367 days between that game and this coming Sunday’s. Last year, Brady the ageless wonder was coming off his seventh Super Bowl win and was the toast of Tampa. This time around, the 45-year-old is fresh off a short-lived retirement in February and a mysterious 11-day absence smack in the middle of Buccaneers training camp.

Last September, the offensive line in front of Brady boasted three players who would go on to Pro Bowl nods. Now, Ali Marpet has hung up his cleats, Ryan Jensen is on IR, and Tristan Wirfs is coming off an oblique injury.

And the Cowboys’ arrow, defensively at least, has been going up ever since that night’s 31-29 thriller. It’s still climbing.

So there may be more of an opportunity for Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Co. to get to Brady this opening night. But McCarthy believes that the team’s defensive tackles may be the key to actually bagging Brady.

“I think the older and the more experienced your quarterback is, the more inside pressure you’ve got to give them,” the coach told reporters Monday from The Star. “Their ability to step and slide and slip, the number of reps that 10-plus-year quarterbacks have- that’s really so much in their wheelhouse, the ability to play within in the A and B gaps. The edge stuff doesn’t bother them as much; they’ve seen it, they’ve felt it. They’ve got great experience at taking a deeper drop, setting high to buy themselves another yard and a half in their platform. All those things come with experience. Coaching- I’ve been fortunate enough to work with older quarterbacks- you’ve got to, really, you always talk about those A and B gaps. ‘No one runs through the A and B gaps. You got to keep those A gaps clean.'”

Or, if the older quarterback is on the other side, flood those A and B gaps with relentless interior pressure. Quinton Bohanna, Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore, and Trysten Hill… get ready to rock and roll.

It’s a move that Brady has no doubt seen before; McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn won’t be trying to re-invent the wheel on Sunday night against a passer who’s literally seen it all.

“Definitely,” McCarthy admitted. “That’s part of his greatness, his instinct and awareness. Him and Aaron [Rodgers], I mean, how many guys have played that much? It’s definitely a big part of what they bring to the table. In my opinion, scheme will be important in this game because history will tell you 35% of the plays in this game are going to be unscouted or will be some type of variation of things we’ve seen before. So really, we’re focused on the basics and playing our game. We just want to get up and compete. We’re not going to sit here and try to play chess with Tom Brady.”

But as in any defensive game plan the Cowboys have drawn up over the past season, their own locker-room chess prodigy looks to be the X-factor. And though he logged a respectable seven tackles, a QB hit, and a defended pass in his NFL debut versus Tampa Bay last September, Parsons is now the league’s reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he plans to be moving around the entire board with a dizzying variety of attacking gambits.

“I think Micah has cranked it up and taken it to a whole different level,” McCarthy said. “He’s had some excellent practices throughout training camp. Just some of the things he’s done in the pass rush drills; I’m just thinking through the Chargers week. But he’s taken it to another level since we’ve been back from Oxnard. He’s probably had two or three practices that he’s been super, extremely disruptive, and I think it’s him taking that next step. I know he has a very strong desire to be an elite player. I feel strongly- and I think everybody feels strongly- that he is that or will be that for us. With that comes a lot of responsibility. You can see the energy. He’s into it. ”

McCarthy says that intensity has been contagious across the entire defense, building steadily day by day as the regular season approaches.

“It’s game week. They’re all into it. Today’s vibe was totally different than what it was on Monday.”

Whether it will be enough for the Cowboys to overpower the Bucs for the team’s first-ever win against Brady remains to be seen. And then, of course, there are 16 more games to follow. It will be a marathon, not a sprint, for a Dallas defensive unit that- for the first time in a long time- could be expected to carry a thinned-out and somewhat patchworked Cowboys offense.

When asked about how this Cowboys defense stacks up against some of his past units, McCarthy was reminded of his 2010 Packers. That crew, led by Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, A.J. Hawk, and others, finished the season ranked fifth in yards allowed and second in points allowed, sacks, and interceptions. And they held opposing quarterbacks to the lowest passer rating in the NFL en route to a win in Super Bowl XLV.

In other words, a good bar to aim for.

“That’s the highest-rated defense that I’ve ever had as a head coach, and I think this one definitely has the look and has the ability to be that caliber of a defense,” McCarthy said.

“I’m excited to see this defense compete Sunday night.”

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire