February 5, 2015


How the Patriots Solved the Seahawks (KEVIN CLARK, Feb. 2, 2015, WSJ)

Only Bill Belichick could look at a team that lost by 35 points and decide he has to steal their ideas.

A year ago, the Seattle Seahawks vaulted to the top of the football world by dismantling Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seahawks did it by forcing virtually all of Manning's throws to be short, harmless tosses. That was all that Seattle's fortress of a defense would allow--little passes in front of them that went for negligible yardage.

So when Belichick and the New England Patriots needed a strategy for Sunday's Super Bowl, he chose seemingly the most irrational one possible: an attack based on those short, seemingly harmless tosses.

It wasn't the most brilliant game plan in history, but it may have been the most practical.

New England's dinking and dunking down the field was the football equivalent of driving cross-country because you're afraid to fly. It took the Patriots forever to get to their destination, but they got there. Although the interception Seattle threw at the goal line--an unforced error unlike any in sports history--gave New England the victory, it was the Patriots' counterintuitive offensive approach that got them in position to win in the first place. That strategy enabled them to overcome a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit against one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.

In fact, Tom Brady , the game's most valuable player and perhaps the greatest quarterback in history, was historically conservative Sunday night. There have been 88 quarterbacks to play in the Super Bowl. Only six of those had a worse mark than his 8.86 yards per completion. All of those quarterbacks lost--including Peyton Manning. [...]Time after time, Brady would find receivers over the middle of the field for one of those short, quick passes that the Seahawks would allow. Then the receiver--Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola--would simply dive ahead and get a few yards where they could. It wasn't particularly glamorous.

New England avoided throwing at Sherman, which could be considered an act of football cowardice. Counterpoint: The Patriots didn't care. Edelman knew that such routes would work on the Seahawks' big defensive backs, since they couldn't move as quickly in tight spaces as the Patriots receivers.

So the question becomes: Why haven't other teams successfully employed Belichick's plan? That is complicated. NFL coaches can be stubborn, yes, but there is also the belief that if you are good at something, you shouldn't abandon it, no matter the circumstances. So teams that rely on throwing outside and deep--common in today's NFL--tend to do so despite the odds.

...only ego can stop you from doing so.  

N.B. There's been a lot of debate about whether Belichick erred on the last drive by not stopping the clock to leave time for Tom Brady in case Seattle scored.  Besides the fact that Seattle had to sacore a touchdown so the time pressure worked in the Pats' favor, the simple fact is Tom Brady can't make the kind of downfield throws a quick drive would have required and those are the plays the Seahawks are designed to stop.  

Posted by at February 5, 2015 6:07 PM

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