Sunday, November 1, 2015

New England Patriots' Midseason Forum, Part 1 - Champs Dictating Terms

Brady may be playing the best football of his career
At the start of every season, New England Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick reminds all of us that there are 32 teams in the National Football League, and all of them have their sites set on one goal, and that all of them have the same opportunity to grasp that brass ring called the Lombardi Trophy - and in the better part of the past two decades, the Patriots have grabbed that ring more than any other team...

...and have come up with nothing but air on a couple of other attempts, but no one can deny that the Patriots are most successful team of this generation - and all because they are blessed with the best coach and a quarterback who have been in the same system together for the entire time.

Winning championships, losing championships, it doesn't matter. Their approach to each game remains the same, within the confines of the offensive and defensive philosophies.

Defensively, it's always been a matter of taking away the opponent's top couple of strengths and daring them to beat you with plan b (or plan c or even plan d), building that plan around the strengths of the athletes at his disposal - which is the same way on offense, but with a distinct difference.

You see, the offense, having been run by the same guy for the past 16 years, has become somewhat robotic, to the point that it would be boring were it not for the explosive nature of the weapons at quarterback Tom Brady's whim, and the fact that Brady is so good at his job - so efficient - many marvel at his onfield accomplishments without stopping to think as to why the Patriots' offense has become the runaway freight train that it has.

The game plan offense is part of it, as the Patriots coaches work all week long to identify the opposition's weaknesses on defense, then pare down their massive playbook to include the concepts that have the best chances to be successful in attacking the defense - then deliver the entire package to Brady and the offensive players, who work tirelessly in the film room and practice field to ensure they have it down...

...which is how things work in every professional organization, but the command that Brady has of the antiquated Erhardt-Perkins offense that Belichick is faithful to, combined with the unquestioned loyalty that his supporting cast has in him and the system and their fellow players equates to production that few defenses can contain for even one half of football, never mind an entire game.

The Erhardt-Perkins' offense stands by the mantra "Pass to score, run to win." which, in lay terms means that the offense will try to build an early lead through the passing game, then fall back on the run and the four-minute offense to grind down the clock and limit the number of possessions by the opposition.

This is not to infer that there is a set standard of balance to the play calling, rather, balance in this offense is most often achieved through taking what they want as a unit, passing first as a general rule, and usually using the running game as something that shows up just enough to keep the opposing pass rushers aware of their assignments against the run.

It's a system tested by time to be the genuine article that Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins developed as assistant coaches for the Patriots under Chuck Fairbanks in the mid-70's, and Belichick's unwavering faithfulness to the methodology is one of the core reasons why his offense always evolves into a juggernaut right around Halloween...

...the other reasons being his complex and thorough scouting system that exhausts every thread of knowledge in regard to an opposing defense, and the fact that both Belichick and Brady know the playbook like the Pope knows the bible, and are able to game plan for their opponent in such a meticulous manner means that the Patriots have the advantage over them before they even hit the field for warm ups.

Thursday night's punking of the Miami Dolphins is a perfect example.

On the first series of the game, Brady fed running back LeGarrette Blount four times for 22 yards, and completed four short passes to draw the linebackers and secondary closer to the line, then took advantage of the coverage by hitting tight end Rob Gronkowski over the middle behind the linebackers, and Gronkowski raced 47 yards for the touchdown, aided by a tremendous downfield block by wide receiver Brandon LaFell.

The Dolphins defense adjusted by coming after Brady, turning up the heat on the patchwork offensive line and forcing punts on the next four series by either causing penalties or by sacking Brady, but New England countered with their up-tempo look in the two minute drill and moved the ball strictly through the air to take a 19-0 lead into the locker room...

...turning primarily to their four-minute offense in the second half to grind down the Dolphins' defense and salt the game away with true balance.

So in the space of one game, the Patriots were able to start with a balanced attack to lure the Dolphins into making a mistake in coverages, switching to an up-tempo, downfield attack that no defense in the league has been able to stop, then turning things over to the grinders in the second half to wear down the Dolphins and strip the clock.

In other words, the Patriots offense lines up and says, "Here's what were going to do, now try to stop us.", and if the opposing defense does stop them, the Patriots simply morph into another entity and stomp them like a vat of grapes.

With the concept-driven playbook, a trustworthy group of sure-handed receivers, a dynamic "Thunder and Lightning" approach at the running back position, a young offensive line that is nearing full health (sans Nate Solder), and a veteran gunslinger who is playing the best football of his first ballot, Hall of Fame career, the Patriots' offense is as close to a juggernaut as there can be in the sport...

...and the defense, a unit missing both starting corners and a rock-solid nose tackle from last season's championship unit is starting to gel into what is statistically a better defense than what they fielded for their Super Bowl run - but all of that comes in subsequent articles in this series.

For the next week leading up to the midway point of the season with a matchup against Washington, we are going to take a look at what makes the 2015 Patriots tick on offense, defense and special teams, using Belichick's unique team building philosophies as a base from which to proceed...

First up, How Bill Belichick's philosophies mirror Sun Tsu's ancient tutorial The Art of War to build his team, and how he prepares them each week according to the master's military strategies combined with the rules and well-known strategies of the modern game of football.

New England Patriots' Midseason Forum is a nine-part series that examines the state of the Patriots at the midseason mark of each season. Part 2 looks at the team philosophies, parts 3,4 and 5 cover the state of the offense, parts 6, 7, and 8 cover the defense and part nine the importance of special teams...

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