Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady might not necessarily be known as the epitome of the deep-ball passer, but he’s certainly chucked it down the field a time or two in his day. Yet it’s an area that he largely avoided on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, attempting only two passes of 20 or more air yards against a secondary full of reserves. Those reserves weren’t surprised.
“We handled it pretty well. That’s why I say I was proud of those guys”, veteran cornerback Arthur Maulet told reporters yesterday via the team’s website. “The moment wasn’t too big for them. They played technique ball, sound defense. I was just happy that we can do it together as a defense”.
He added specifically of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ passing depth and the secondary’s handling it, “He didn’t take a ton of shots. I think we did a good job keeping the lid over the top of the defense and just rallying down making tackles and gang tackling”.
Brady attempted 22 deep balls through the first five games of the season, averaging more than four per game, so the meager two attempts on Sunday was a departure. He completed one, down the middle, for a 28-yard gain, but that was it. 23 of his 40 attempts were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage or behind it.
Of course, a lack of deep ball attempts isn’t what Tampa Bay lost, even if the Steelers were playing with a secondary consisting of James Pierre and Josh Jackson at cornerback with Tre Norwood filling in for All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick at safety. Also out were cornerbacks Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace.
Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles acknowledged their efforts after the game in his post-game remarks, crediting the secondary play on the deep ball, saying that they “protected them[selves] over the top for the most part”.
Of course, Brady still threw for 243 yards against them, albeit on 40 attempts, and with the caveat that he played the entire game minus an opening-drive three-and-out while trailing, so that is naturally going to lend itself to more passing plays.
Under the circumstances, the secondary did its well very commendably, but could they actually execute a repeat performance? Part of the reason it worked was because of the unfamiliar factor. The Miami Dolphins have this week’s tape to study.
There is reason for optimism that the group can get healthy, though. Witherspoon has already missed a few games with a hamstring injury, so one would hope that he is close. Wallace was dealing with a concussion, and generally, players don’t miss more than one game unless it’s more serious. Fitzpatrick was out with a knee injury that didn’t seem serious. Anybody returning would certainly be a welcome addition.