Houston’s Wade Phillips has built a rep as one of the best defensive coordinators in the game -- he’s widely credited as being the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to the Texans and their maturation into a playoff team -- but he’s always had some issues when it comes to stopping Tom Brady.
In four games between the Patriots quarterback and Phillips-led defenses, Brady has the upper hand with a 3-1 record. That includes three consecutive wins. In those four games, Brady is a combined 98-for-164 for 1,188 yards, with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. That averages out to 25-for-41 for 297 yards with three touchdowns and one pick a game -- not bad numbers for the quarterback. So it was no surprise that Phillips threw plenty of bouquets in Brady’s direction on Thursday.
“Their quarterback is one of the all-time best -- he’s got to be in the top five of all time, for sure,” said Phillips, who is in his second year as Houston's defensive coordinator. “They’re scoring more points than everybody else, and he’s behind a lot of it, although, they have a really good running game also. You can’t put enough accolades on the guy. And how many games has the guy won? It’s amazing. His record has to be unbelievable.”
Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of how Brady has done against Phillips:
Oct. 2, 2005: Brady and the Patriots were coming off their third Super Bowl in four seasons when they faced the Chargers at Gillette Stadium. Phillips, who served as San Diego’s defensive coordinator, was in charge of a group that was middle-of-the-pack when it came to total defense (the Chargers would finish that season with a 9-7 record and 13th in the league when it came to total defense, having allowed 309.3 yards per game). But this one was more about the Patriots struggles on the defensive side of the ball, as Drew Brees (248 passing yards, LaDainian Tomlinson (134 yards rushing) and Antonio Gates (108 receiving yards) combined to topple the Patriots, 41-17, and halt a 21-game home winning streak. The San Diego defense had its way with Brady, forcing the quarterback into one of his worst outings of the year -- his quarterback rating that afternoon was 78.1, 12th best on the regular season. Brady went 19-for-32 for 224 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, and was sacked once.
Jan. 14, 2007: Another Patriots-Chargers matchup, and another situation that saw Brady against Phillips as a defensive coordinator. But this time, it was in San Diego with a lot more on the line. The two teams met in a divisional playoff, and with the Chargers posting a 14-2 regular-season mark (and a first-round bye) and New England coming in as a wild card, it figured to be a dogfight for the Patriots, and it certainly was. As for Brady, if you’re stacking this performance against some of his other playoff performances, you’re not going to put this one near the top -- he’s thrown three picks in a postseason game twice in 22 career playoff contests -- but he was at his best when it counted, helping the Patriots put 11 fourth-quarter points on the board to sneak past San Diego and into the AFC title game. Brady ended up 27-for-51 for 280 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions, and was sacked twice. (Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell combined for 17 catches, 183 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Man oh man.) According to the boxscore from Pro Football Reference, in that one, when Brady went left, he was 11-for-16 for 94 yards and a touchdown. He was 8-for-20 for 86 yards and a touchdown when going down the middle, and 7-for-16 for 93 yards when he went right.
(In both of these games, Phillips and the Chargers certainly did an excellent job making sure that Brady didn’t beat them. In fact, if it wasn’t for Troy Brown stripping Marlon McCree after a San Diego pick, it’s debatable whether or not the Patriots even with that second game. But it’s worth mentioning that in the wake of both of these games, things got a little heated. The Chargers celebrated on their way off the field, and Brady went after then-Chargers’ coach Marty Schottenheimer in the wake of the first game for reasons that seem a little silly now. And in the wake of the playoff win over San Diego, the Chargers took great exception to New England’s celebrating. Good times.)
Oct. 14, 2007: Ten months later, Phillips had moved on from working as a defensive coordinator in San Diego to serving as head coach of the Cowboys. For whatever reason -- maybe it was the first time Brady faced him as a head coach instead of a DC, maybe it was personnel, maybe it was a boost in the offensive options he had around him -- but Brady crushed Phillips this time around, leading New England to a 48-27 victory. It was one of the quarterbacks’ finest performances against anyone that season, let alone a Phillips’ defense. Against a Dallas pass defense that was in the upper levels of the league that year (the Cowboys finished the season 13th overall against the pass), Brady had few issues, finishing an impressive 31-for-46 for 388 yards and five touchdown passes. He was sacked three times, but he seemed to find his greatest success in the middle of the field against Dallas -- he went 12-for-17 for 238 yards and four touchdowns when you combine the deep middle and short middle passes he threw. (Again, per the PFR boxscore, he was 12-for-19 for 88 yards and one touchdown when he went right, and was 7-for-10 for 62 yards when he went right.)
Dec. 10, 2012: More than five years after their last meeting, Phillips was back to working as a defensive coordinator, but for the second consecutive game, when the two went head-to-head, Brady was clearly the winner. Statistically, it was an overwhelming performance -- the Patriots were looking to take the air of the ball, and as a result, they ran the ball a lot in the second half. But for the first quarter-plus, the quarterback was dominant against a Texans team that looked like it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Brady, who was without Rob Gronkowski, was also limited by the fact that the Texans did a nice job limiting Wes Welker, who ended up with matching a season-low with three catches as New England rolled to a 42-14 win. But in the end, the quarterback finished 21-for-35 for 296 yards and four touchdown passes. (He was sacked once.) Like the 2007 Dallas game, Brady found his best success down the middle of the field. Per PFR, between the numbers, the quarterback was a combined 8-for-12 for 172 yards and two touchdowns. When he went left, he was 8-for-14 for 68 yards and two touchdowns, and he was 4-for-9 for 31 yards and a touchdown when he went right.
Brady has dominated the last two meetings, and it will be interesting to see how -- if at all -- Phillips responds this time around. In the first game between the two teams this season, Phillips dialed up extra pressure on a number of occasions, but Brady was able to beat the rushers most of the time, finishing with 296 yards and four touchdown passes. Of course, Brady was his own best offensive lineman at times -- as has been the case for the quarterback for most of his career, he has excellent pocket awareness, and that night against the Texans, he was able to get the ball out just fast enough to beat the extra rushers.
So what does Phillips do this time around? One school of thought has him forgoing the frequent blitzes he called the first time the two teams met earlier this season and shuffling up the defensive line and moving J.J. Watt in the middle, which would theoretically allow him to collapse the pocket and limit Brady’s ability to step into his throws. Success there would also depend on the Texans ability to get pressure off the edge against New England’s tackles, as well as Gronkowski, one of the better blocking tight ends in the league.
Regardless, Phillips knows that he’s in for another challenge against a quarterback who is frequently playing chess while the rest of the league struggles how to figure out checkers.
“There’s no simple answer on him, obviously,” Phillips said. “He’s great against the three-man rush, a four-man rush, a five-man rush and even blitz coverage. We played a lot of zone against him last time and he did a good job against that. You have to put pressure on him somehow, but you’d like to be able to do it with a four-man rush and play man or zone, but the reason you can’t do it is he’s so good and he’s got such great receivers.”