Age­less Brady and Pa­tri­ots pose deep threat for de­fense

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NFL - By Matt Kawa­hara Matt Kawa­hara is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: mkawa­hara@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @matthewkawa­hara

Tom Brady, at age 40, leads the NFL in pass­ing yards through Week 10 for a New England team that ranks first in to­tal of­fense.

In fact, Raiders cor­ner­back David Amer­son said it seems that Brady ac­tu­ally has ex­panded his game — ver­ti­cally.

“I think he’s tak­ing more shots down the field,” Amer­son said Tues­day. Amer­son’s right. Brady, through the Pa­tri­ots’ first nine games, has at­tempted 47 passes that trav­eled 20 or more yards in the air down­field, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, third most among NFL quar­ter­backs. Brady at­tempted 49 such “deep” throws in his 12 reg­u­lar-sea­son games last year. Brady throw­ing 13.7 per­cent of his passes at least 20 yards would mark his ca­reer-high rate for a sea­son since PFF be­gan track­ing that data in 2006. And though his 8.2 yards per at­tempt is iden­ti­cal to last sea­son, Brady’s av­er­age tar­get this year has been 9.8 yards down­field (10th in the league, ac­cord­ing to Next Gen Stats), com­pared with 8.6 yards down­field last sea­son (28th).

Part of that re­flects New England’s off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tion of re­ceiver Brandin Cooks, who gives Brady a speedy threat on the out­side. Cooks led the NFL through Week 9 with 290 re­ceiv­ing yards on passes of 20 or more yards, ac­cord­ing to PFF, and he leads the Pa­tri­ots with an av­er­age of 16.3 yards per catch.

Brady tops the league with 2,807 pass­ing yards and is com­plet­ing 67.3 per­cent of his passes, the third-high­est rate of his 18-year ca­reer. On Sun­day, he’ll face an Oak­land de­fense that’s al­low­ing op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs to com­plete 71.2 per­cent of their passes and just let Jay Cut­ler and a league-worst Mi­ami of­fense amass 311 yards through the air.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Raiders safety Reg­gie Nel­son said. “You’ve got Brady, who’s go­ing to get them in the right po­si­tion, in the right play. So we’ve got to do a good job of just tak­ing care of the lit­tle things and do­ing what we’ve got to do to win this game.”

Any hope that cor­ner­back Gareon Con­ley might be able to re­turn van­ished Mon­day, when the Raiders put their firstround pick on sea­son-end­ing in­jured re­serve with a shin in­jury. Amer­son has missed the Raiders’ past two games with a foot in­jury, but sounded op­ti­mistic Tues­day on his progress.

“I’m get­ting bet­ter, man,” Amer­son said. “It’s get­ting bet­ter. I think it’s try­ing to just get to that point where I can move comfortably on it, be able to re­ally put force down and get in and out of breaks and stuff like that.”

Oak­land played its 27-24 win at Mi­ami on Nov. 5 with three ac­tive cor­ner­backs: TJ Car­rie, Sean Smith and Dex­ter McDon­ald. Car­rie and McDon­ald were on the field for all 67 de­fen­sive snaps — an ar­range­ment that might prove more tax­ing at high al­ti­tude in Mex­ico City. Amid in­juries and lineup changes, Car­rie is the lone Oak­land cor­ner­back to play at least half the snaps this sea­son.

It won’t be merely the cor­ners pressed into pass cov­er­age Sun­day. In New England’s 41-16 rout of Den­ver on Sun­day, Brady tar­geted a tight end or run­ning back on 20 of 34 throws, com­plet­ing 16 for 193 yards and three touch­downs.

“I think what sep­a­rates them is the run­ning backs be­ing able to be route run­ners,” Amer­son said. “They cre­ate dif­fer­ent matchups with guys in that sense.”

Against a de­fense that does not have an in­ter­cep­tion through nine games and is tied for last in the league with 13 sacks, Brady and the Pa­tri­ots’ of­fense would ap­pear to have the ad­van­tage. Car­rie said the Raiders can’t af­ford to think that way.

“I think that we all put on our shoes the same way, and I think that if you put some­body on a big­ger pedestal than what it may seem, then you’re al­ready los­ing that bat­tle,” Car­rie said.

“Of course, we re­spect the Pa­tri­ots. But at the same time, they suit up just like we suit up. It’s an­other game for us to con­tinue to prepare and go out there and ex­e­cute.”

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