February 1, 2017

JONES ISN'T THEIR BEST PLAYER (profanity alert):

The Belichick Way (Michael Lombardi, Feb. 1st, 2017, The Ringer)

When Belichick prepares for his next opponent, he studies their players and the signature plays of those players, not just the design of their offense. On Sunday, Belichick won't regard Julio Jones solely as a Z receiver, the way Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers curiously treated him. If you were just an average NFL Z receiver, then a cornerback like Green Bay's LaDarius Gunter could handle you man-to-man in a critical play of the NFC championship game. But attach a meaningful name like Julio Jones to that position and what sane person would allow Gunter to cover man-to-man on an island? Looks good on a blackboard, just not on the field. (Sorry, Dom, that call is still bothering me.)

Belichick doesn't take away what the opponent does best, but what their individual players do best. It's a subtle but crucial difference. He personally breaks down every offensive player to understand their strengths within their team's scheme. Then, he matches the talents of New England's defensive players to whatever system he's created for that week. Did you ever wonder why former nose tackle Vince Wilfork lined up over the right tackle in certain Patriots games? For years, Wilfork was Belichick's best run stopper. Whenever New England's opponent loved running the ball to its right, guess where it made the most sense to stick Wilfork? Fairly simple, yet not often done.

When I studied the Falcons on tape, one possible weakness jumped out: The right opponent could disrupt the timing of their passing game by getting consistent pressure inside. Knocking Matt Ryan's offense off its timing, even slightly, will be paramount for the Patriots. If the Patriots don't get "in the paint" -- the area where most quarterbacks want to step up and throw the ball -- or apply steady pressure on Ryan, then their coverages won't matter.

Atlanta's offense operates best when Ryan has time and the pocket is clean. (Ask Green Bay.) Yet Ryan has been pressured 170 times this year -- the eighth-highest total of any 2016 team -- and Belichick knows pushing the Falcons guards backward into the pocket will slow down Ryan's passing game more than any defensive call. The Eagles had real success pressuring the pocket against Atlanta, as did Seattle and Kansas City, and guess what? The Falcons lost all three of those games. The Patriots will prioritize making the Super Bowl a physical affair, not a seven-on-seven contest. Expect defensive tackles Alan Branch and Malcom Brown to line up over either Falcons guard and follow this specific Belichick instruction: Push the line of scrimmage back -- run or pass. No swim moves, no spins. Just pure power straight on, the same way the Giants disrupted Tom Brady's line of scrimmage nine years ago in Arizona.

Posted by at February 1, 2017 10:35 AM