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Bill Belichick: Fallible or Perfect?

Sage Stossel, "The Atlantic"

So after the Patriots were unceremoniously dumped from the playoffs, public opinion seems to have the Patriots’ dynasty deteriorating, if it hasn’t already disappeared. The center of all the talk is obviously coach Bill Belichick, who some say is given too much free reign and isn’t being challenged enough by his assistant coaches and other staff. If we accept this view, then Belichick does whatever he wants without taking the advice of others. This would make his decisions executed without much thought and without taking into account the consequences or any roadblocks that might result. George Washington always kept his council close, and it worked out for him in the end. Whether or not you actually think Belichick has not been challenged effectively or is still making good decisions, no Super Bowl wins since 2005, and a poor (for the Patriots) 10-6 record this year does warrant some changes to the Pats’ strategy for next season:

Passing:

First of all, let Brady’s injuries heal. Use Brian Hoyer if necessary. Second of all, Brady throws deep too often. Just because Moss is deep down field doesn’t mean he has to get the ball. Whenever he is covered, look for other options or it probably won’t work out. If he’s WIDE open, sure, take a shot, but only then or if you’re trailing late. Thirdly, Remember against the Ravens, when the Pats were inside the Ravens’ ten, and Brady threw it out the back of the end zone high? You could clearly see Brady had some open room in front of him to run it forward, maybe even for a touchdown. Even with no good receivers, Brady refuses to run and throws it anyway. Brady needs to learn to run if he has an opening and no open receivers.

Rushing:

The Patriots are obviously a passing team. This had left their rushing game with some holes, and not the kind Laurence Maroney can charge through. Whenever a running play is called, it seems like it’s too often up the middle. That makes it easy for opponents to defend the run. Throw in a pitch now and then. Throw in a double reverse. Lateral the ball. Even a delayed draw would throw off the opponents’ timing. The points is, mix it up with additional runs and increase the number of runs. This would balance the Pats’ offense, and make them a more lethal team. Just because Brady’s a star doesn’t mean we can’t have a constellation.

General Offense:

Too many times have the Patriots lined up without any backs. Just Brady. Could the pass be any more obvious? Put at least one back behind Brady at all times, to make opponents think about the run. Or at least have Brady sneak or draw every now and then. With such obvious pass plays, the defense is much better able to figure out who to defend and how to pressure Brady. Not making things so obvious would further diversify the offense, as I espoused earlier, and make Moss, Welker, and the other weapons that much more effective once the defenses’ attention is partially distracted from them.

Defense:

As a general trait I’ve noticed, the Patriots’ defense has a hard time stopping opposing offenses in its tracks. They’ve had recent problems holding onto 4th quarter leads. Opposing running backs are seemingly stuffed only to push forward for a few extra yards, or move to the outside for huge gains. The Pats give up way too much on short passes, which steadily and reliably nets them 1st downs, which leads to points. Basically, it seems like our defense just lets opponents do what they want too often. Step up the production of sacks, interceptions, fumbles, and all-around pressure, don’t tolerate any enemy gains, and the offense’s ability to put up points will have more meaning.

Coaching:

And here we come full circle. It does seem like Belichick and co. have been a bit off lately, doesn’t it? Aside from the better play calling, if Belichick wants to return to his former self, a more sensible strategy would be in order. Save the timeouts for the two minute drill; that’s what they’re for. The Patriots used to be a lot better at the whole clock management thing, and not getting confused with the play calling. And if you have 3rd and short, run it instead of passing. And if you have something like 4th and 2 and you’re deep in your own territory, punt. It leaves the opponent with limited options. It’s a time honored tactic that works in many situations; force your opponent into a do or die situation and make them make mistakes. It’ll happen.

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