The hopes of making this the most successful Chiefs postseason run in nearly five decades, and making an appearance in the Super Bowl, largely rest on Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and his unit’s ability to neutralize the greatest quarterback of our generation — and possibly in NFL history.
Whether or not this comes as a frightening prospect to you comes down to of matter of perspective. After all, Sutton oversees a defense that’s been highly criticized this season — as has he — and has already been bested by the New England Patriots and legendary quarterback Tom Brady.
Sutton also has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to Brady, the five-time champion and 14-time Pro Bowler.
“I don’t think you can ever really trick him in the sense that you can completely fool him,” Sutton said. “You might get lucky once in a while, but I don’t think you can go in planning on that. I think what you try to do is you try like the dickens not to give him the answers to the test before the ball is snapped. You try, but like I said this guy has seen everything. He has the answers to the test.”
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Sutton served as an assistant on the defensive staff of the New York Jets from 2000 through 2012, which meant tangling with Brady at least twice a season from the time Brady became the Pats’ starter in 2001 through 2012, with the exception of Brady’s injury-shortened 2008 season. Three of those seasons (2006-08), Sutton coordinated the Jets’ defense.
“He’s been in the same exact system his entire NFL career,” Sutton said. “He’s had different (offensive coordinators) there but the system has never changed. It’s really now his system. I don’t know too many people that have ever done that, that play that many years in the exact same system. He has a lot of things going for him. He’s a great competitor, has got great arm talent. It takes a lot. It’s going to take a team effort defensively to slow him down.”
Brady went 3-2 (1-0 postseason) against the Jets’ defenses coordinated by Sutton. He’s gone 2-2 (1-0 postseason) against the Chiefs since Sutton, the mild-mannered professor at the helm of a bunch of havoc-seeking bulldogs, has been in charge of the Kansas City defense.
Sutton’s defensive unit has been dominant the last two times they’ve taken the field — against the Oakland Raiders in the regular-season finale and the Indianapolis Colts in last weekend’s divisional-round playoff game.
This Chiefs defense has grown from the one that Brady and the Patriots edged out 43-40 in October.
“(Justin) Houston we didn’t see earlier in the year,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “We know how good he is on the edge and the things he does and how much of an impact he makes on their team, not only in the pass rush but in the running game. We’ll see about (Eric) Berry, but we’ve seen him back now in a couple of games. (Daniel) Sorensen’s back off of IR — we’re familiar with him, but he’s playing now. (Charvarius) Ward, we didn’t see much, and so there’s a lot of changes that have taken place here.”
The Chiefs consistently pressured the quarterback all season and finished the regular season tied for the league lead in sacks (52). Their defense also finished the regular season tied for the eighth-most turnovers forced in the NFL.
The Chiefs’ pass defense, which allowed an average of 343.3 yards per game entering their Week 6 matchup, went into the playoffs allowing 273.4 yards per game and held the Colts to just 203 passing yards.
“We’ve been giving teams different looks and, at the end of the day, whatever call we get — making it work,” Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller said. “Guys are making plays, getting off the field on third downs, taking possessions away and things like that. We’ve just been working together, working as one and been making plays.”
Fuller, in his first season with the Chiefs, said Sutton stresses preparation, attention to detail and effort.
A 67-year-old Michigan native, Sutton has kept an even-keeled approach throughout the season.
“If he knows if a team has certain plays that they really love to run, we’ll have a specific defense to just cancel a play out completely,” Chiefs nose tackle Xavier Williams said of Sutton. “I think that’s big, when you can take away (a core play). A lot of teams have four or five plays that they run offense, defense, kind of their identity.
“When you can take two or three of those away completely, it puts a little more pressure on them, maybe making them do something they don’t practice as much or something they’re not as comfortable with.”
Williams, a Kansas City native who’d love to help the franchise he rooted for as a youth get to the Super Bowl, believes the Chiefs learned lessons from their earlier meeting with the Patriots.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they’ll have an easier time slowing Brady. In many ways, the things they did to have success last week — pressure up the middle, switching up coverages, disguising defenses before the snap — are part of the proven blueprint against Brady.
But that’s hardly a secret formula, and it’s much easier said than done.
“Any time anybody plays against Tom Brady, that’s always going to be the game plan — pressure up the middle, get him off his spot, but you know obviously he’s handled it pretty well over his career,” Williams said. “Hopefully, we’re going to put our twist on it and hopefully get him to move around and get him uncomfortable.”