Super Bowl XLIX Preview: Quarterbacks
By: Nick Rose
Super Bowl XLIX will feature a marquee matchup at the quarterback position. In one corner, there’s Tom Brady, who is one of the most decorated quarterbacks of all time. The ten-time Pro Bowler, two-time NFL MVP, and three-time Super Bowl champion will be looking to win his fourth ring to tie Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most Super Bowl victories by a starting quarterback. In the other corner, there’s Russell Wilson, the reigning Super Bowl champion. Although Wilson is much younger than Brady and doesn’t have as many accolades, the rising star has led his team to the playoffs in all three of his NFL seasons and to the Super Bowl the past two years. Both quarterbacks will surely put on a show for us this Sunday, as the game’s most important position provides, in my opinion, the most intriguing matchup for the contest.
In some ways, Brady and Wilson are very similar. Both were drafted into the MLB before their football careers began, both played for Big 10 schools (Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively), and both won a Super Bowl in their second year in the league. Brady went on to win two more after that, and Wilson seems poised to win a few more as well. In my opinion, this success shows the most important trait that the two quarterbacks share: they win at all costs.
Obviously, the objective of any sport is to win, but these guys take it to a whole new level. With them under center, the Patriots and Seahawks have the potential to win any game, regardless of the external circumstances. Either of them could be down by three or more touchdowns at half time and still come back to win the game. For instance, in a game against Denver last year, Brady found his team trailing the Broncos 24-0 at the half.
For most teams, all hope would be lost at that point. Brady, on the other hand, rallied his team to score four unanswered touchdowns to claim the lead, throwing for three of them himself.
Wilson accomplished a similar feat two weeks ago in the NFC Championship game. His play was absolutely terrible throughout most of the game, throwing four interceptions without a touchdown and completing well under 50% of his passes before getting the ball back with 3:52 left in the game and losing 19-7.
Most quarterbacks’ psyche would be shattered after such a poor performance, but as all great quarterbacks must do, Wilson simply put it all behind him. From that point on, it was like a different quarterback entered the game. Wilson used his arm and legs to give Seattle the lead, and then picked apart Green Bay’s secondary to win in overtime.
The history of these two quarterbacks shows that they each have a knack for clutch performances. No lead will be safe in this installment of the Super Bowl.
Although Brady and Wilson both have an abnormal aptitude for winning, they use different playing styles to get those wins. Brady is the classic, prototypical pocket passer that we’ve seen so many of in the NFL.
He’s excellent at reading defenses and knows how to exploit various types of coverage schemes. Often times, he will look to go short early in order to spread the field and open up deeper pass plays later in the game. Over the years, he has mastered the art of methodically moving his offense down the field with 5-7 yard pass plays.
Wilson, on the other hand, is a mobile quarterback. He led all quarterbacks in rushing this season with a whopping 849 yards. He has no problem scrambling out of the pocket to make a big play, whether it be by tucking the ball away and taking off or launching it down field. In fact, a lot of his game-changing throws come when he’s on the run.
It’s a battle between the traditional quarterback and the new-age athletic quarterback.
Another key difference between Brady and Wilson is their offensive game plans. Wilson can be counted on to make plays when the game is on the line, but Marshawn Lynch is definitely the focal point of the Seahawks offense.
When it comes to the Patriots offense, Tom Brady is the unquestioned heart and soul. New England relies heavily on him to get their wins, as seen especially in the divisional round against the Ravens, where the Patriots running backs combined for a mere seven carries. Brady will be asked to carry the entire offense on his shoulders, while Wilson will be asked to supplement Lynch’s heavy dose of carries.
Wilson is unusually experienced for someone his age. He has already played in seven playoff games, going 6-1 with a Super Bowl victory. Nerves certainly won’t be a factor for him on Sunday. That being said, Brady still clearly has the advantage is this category.
The 15-year veteran set the record this year for most career postseason wins with 20. He also possesses the marks for yards with 7,017 and touchdowns with 49. Some of his critics argue that he’s lost the playoff magic that he once had, as he lost the last two Super Bowls he’s been in to the Giants and suffered defeat in consecutive AFC Championship games from 2012-2013.
However, barring a meltdown, Brady is on pace to record one of his best statistical postseasons of all time, which leads me to believe he’s still got it.
I have to give the advantage to Tom Brady. Russell Wilson has shown that he’s an up-and-coming superstar, but he’s not in the same elite group as Brady yet. Brady has proven that he can single-handedly carry a team, while Wilson has always had a superior running game to lean on.
The Legion of Boom will certainly be a tough challenge for Brady, but looking solely at the quarterbacks, I don’t think there’s much question that Brady is the more consistent and more talented of the two.
Key Matchup: Russell Wilson vs. New England’s secondary
New England and Seattle both have incredibly talented pass defenders. Seattle boasts the top unit in the NFL, so Brady will have his hands full in the passing game. I’m more intrigued by the matchup Wilson will be facing, though. He’s been Super Bowl tested, but his victory last year came against a very weak Denver secondary that ranked 27th in the league. He will face a much better secondary this time around. Also, he’s coming off a game in which he threw four interceptions, so it will be interesting to see what adjustments he makes to get back to his standard reliability.