Commentary

The game within the game: Tom vs. Rex

Can the Jets' defense confuse Brady again, or will he have his own tricks this time?

Updated: December 4, 2010, 9:22 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had his lowest completion percentage this season in games against the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. There are two strong links between the performances: Both were losses, and both came against Ryan-coached defenses.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but it's something at least worthy of further inspection as the Patriots prepare for Monday night's highly anticipated clash against Rex Ryan and his confident Jets.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Bill KostrounBrady completed just 55.6 percent of his passes and appeared to be caught off guard the last time he faced Rex Ryan's Jets.

In the Week 2 matchup against the Jets, Brady completed just 55.6 percent of his passes while firing two of his four interceptions on the season. That was a game in which the Jets, known for their attacking ways, played more coverage in the second half as part of an in-game adjustment that seemed to catch Brady a bit off guard. The Jets still showed blitz looks, but often dropped out of them at the snap. Ryan has already promised a similar approach this time around.

The second half of that game -- in which the Patriots totaled 80 net yards of offense and no points -- was as off-the-mark as Brady looked all season, right up until the Nov. 7 loss at Cleveland in which he completed 52.8 percent of his passes against a Browns defense led by Rex Ryan's brother, Rob.

After that game, Browns coaches pointed out the importance of making sure that Brady didn't have any pre-snap information on what the defense might be playing, so they moved defenders around and were one step ahead for much of the day. Like the Jets, they mixed their blitzes and coverages well, although Brady observed that it wasn't exactly the same scheme.

This will be one of the games within Monday's game -- Brady's recognition and decision-making against Ryan's mix-it-up defensive approach.

"I think they put a lot of pressure on you with their scheme," Brady said, noting that the Jets blitz at least one extra rusher about 50 percent of the time, and 75 percent of the time on third down. "They create a lot of different ways to cause confusion with the quarterback and with the offense. They make it tough, so you've got to get the ball into tight spots."

It's not a scheme that Brady has faced very often -- just four times during Ryan's tenure as Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008 and his head-coaching stint with the Jets, which started in 2009.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
David Butler II/US PresswireJets coach Rex Ryan has said the only way to beat Tom Brady is to use a mix-it-up defensive approach against him.

Brady is 89-of-162 for 1,031 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions in those games, while taking six sacks. His 54.9 completion percentage against Rex Ryan-coached defenses is well below his career mark of 63.6.

Surely a four-game sample isn't enough evidence to suggest that Ryan's schemes, and the talented players who bring them to life, have Brady's number. But if there is a repeat of Week 2 on Monday night -- especially after the sizzling three weeks of football Brady has played in wins over the Steelers, Colts and Lions -- the arrow will point closer in that direction.

Brady explained part of what makes the current Jets squad a tough matchup, as cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie can hold their own in man coverage. So that leaves nine other players to create havoc and confusion.

Brady said having 11 days between games has been a "huge benefit" for him to study the Jets and he feels like he knows most of what they will throw at him Monday night.

It's a compelling matchup in which two strong forces are set to collide -- one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Brady, and a scheme that has given him problems in the past.

"They definitely have their own style," Brady said, "one that we didn't handle very well the first time we played them."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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