January 17, 2017

TRINITARIAN (profanity alert):

All the Small Things (Kevin Clark, Jan. 17th, 2017, The Ringer)

Belichick's diverse background may be rare among head coaches, but it's common among his assistants. He gravitates toward staff members who possess similar flexibility, whether it comes from working with the offense and defense alike or from working in different parts of the organization. Current defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, for instance, was the team's assistant offensive line coach in 2005 before becoming the linebackers coach a year later. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio was the team's wide receivers coach. Linebackers coach Brian Flores used to be a Patriots scout. League-wide, it's uncommon for coaches and scouts to switch career paths like that once they're at the NFL level, but in Belichick's house, it's routine.

Possessing expertise across the organization doesn't just make coaches and execs smarter; it helps earn players' trust. "He's done everything, so when he's talking about anything you have to listen," New England pass rusher Rob Ninkovich says of Belichick. "Offensive coach, defensive coordinator, special teams, it's unbelievable. He can know anything."

The Patriots have finished in the top seven in special teams DVOA in every season since 2011, and that's no coincidence: They're obsessed with that phase of the game. Belichick talks breathlessly about its intricacies, and that passion has translated into field position: This season, their opponents' average drive began on the 26, best in the league, while their own average drive started at the 31, third-best in the league.

Committing to special teams excellence is a conscious choice: The Patriots paid Matthew Slater, the special teams ace tasked with flying down the field to make the tackle on punts and kickoffs, more than $2 million this season, an extremely uncommon expenditure in a league in which teams are loathe to spend more than the minimum on special teams players. They spent a fourth-round pick on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who's been with the team since 2006, and a fifth-round pick on long snapper Joe Cardona despite only four exclusive long snappers ever being drafted. They didn't draft punter Ryan Allen, but that won't stop Belichick, who believes the spin Allen generates makes the ball harder to catch, from gushing about the left-footer.

Every team knows that there are three phases to the game, but few care more about the third one than the Patriots.

Posted by at January 17, 2017 9:27 AM

  

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