The simple truth for Saturday's Washington-Tampa Bay playoff game is that if Tom Brady looks comfortable for the Buccaneers, then the Burgundy and Gold will be uncomfortable — and likely sent home.
Therefore, it's essential that Jack Del Rio's defense gets to the six-time Super Bowl champion early, late and in between at FedEx Field. They know that, too. But how do they actually do it?
Few possess a better understanding of that mission and how to accomplish it than Rodney Harrison, who logged 15 years in the NFL, the last six of which came alongside Brady and New England. The former safety and current NBC analyst joined the Washington Football Talk podcast on Thursday to outline how he would go about harassing the Hall of Famer.
"You hit him up the middle," Harrison said, "and he's a completely different quarterback. And Tom, hey, he helped get me two Super Bowl rings, so I have a lot of respect and love for that guy, but at the same time, you can definitely mess with him a little bit.
"If you hit him, if you rattle him, if you're able to put pressure right up the middle, he's done. You hit him, he's done. You have a great chance at winning."
As covered in those two quotes, the key, in Harrison's mind, is the interior push. The Burgundy and Gold would surely appreciate massive contributions from Chase Young and Montez Sweat on the edge, but if Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Tim Settle can create problems in Brady's face, then the hosts will really be onto something.
It won't just be about the front four, of course. Brady was only sacked 21 times in the regular season, so the back seven needs to hold up against him when he has a clean pocket.
Harrison outlined what that particular group must do in those situations.
"You got to get up there and disrupt the receivers at the line of scrimmage," he said. "So when the receivers come off, Tom doesn't have that clean look.
"If you sit back and you play conservative zone and you don't put pressure on Tom, and he's back there and he's behind — I call it the 'gated community’ — he's back there sitting, he can pick you apart, he's going to kill you."
That... doesn't sound too fun for Washington.
With all the weapons Brady will bring with him to the showdown, Kendall Fuller and the corners, Kam Curl and the safeties and Jon Bostic and the linebackers all will be required to step up and limit Brady's windows.
However, as Harrison succinctly concluded, if Brady is relaxed on Saturday, Ron Rivera's club is doomed. Turning up the heat on him isn't a priority, it's a requirement.
"He's 40-some years old, and 40-year old men, they don't want to get hit by 300-pound men," Harrison said.