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Steve Spagnuolo: Times have changed, but Tom Brady hasn’t

The Chiefs’ defensive coordinator broke down the challenge of facing one of the all-time greats.

NFL: JAN 29 Super Bowl LIV - Chiefs Press Conference Photo by Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense takes the field on Sunday in Super Bowl LV, it will be the fifth time that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will lead a unit against quarterback Tom Brady. It will be the second time in a Super Bowl; 13 years ago, Spagnuolo and the underdog New York Giants stalemated Brady in his first MVP season and ruined their perfect season.

It’s hard to take much from a game that happened 13 years ago. Spagnuolo acknowledged the sport’s progress since that battle — but also marveled at how the 43-year-old Brady is even tougher to defend than he was at the peak of his career.

“The game has changed a little bit from when we played back there in 2007; the quarterback we’re playing is the same, he’s still just as good,” Spagnuolo told reporters — including his former player Osi Umenyiora — on Tuesday. “The one thing about Tom now, it’s hard to overload or do certain things that we were able to do way back when. I think Tom’s really good at identifying things, spitting things out and getting them in the right place.”

The prevailing theme from the upset Super Bowl victory more than a decade ago was simple: get pressure with four defensive linemen so you can have all seven of your coverage defenders taking away passing options.

It’s not that simple now. Offenses have quickly evolved to understand even more ways to counter pressure schemes.

“The one thing that’s made it a little tougher defensively is that offensive schemes have a lot more pass protections,” Spagnuolo pointed out. “Nowadays, they just have so many that it makes it difficult to beat a protection.”

While Brady won the MVP with 50 passing touchdowns in 2007, and the experience he now has 21 seasons into his career makes him even more difficult to defend. He’s seen every scheme that defenses have tried throwing at him.

“He’s a step ahead of everything,” Spagnuolo explained. “Every film clip you put on, he’s putting their guys in the right [offense]. That’s always the challenge of going against a cerebral quarterback, and we know Tom is like that. He has total control, he gets them out there in time to change things. We’re going to have to be really good on the back-end not to show him things — or as we say, don’t let him read our mail.”

Especially in a game with such high stakes, the Chiefs can’t expect to completely shut down a six-time Super Bowl champion. Spagnuolo and his unit understand that.

“We’re going against one of the best, a guy that can change anything at any time, so he’s probably going to be right, we just have to hopefully make a few more plays than they do.”

In a game where both quarterbacks will surely be putting up points, it’ll take a key defensive play or two to determine this game. Spagnuolo has proven that he can dial up that big play on Brady.