February 4, 2019


Even Sean McVay isn't immune to getting outcoached by Bill Belichick (Stephen Holder, 2/04/19, The Athletic)

"There's no other way to say it: I got outcoached tonight," McVay said after his explosive offense sputtered to a halt in a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. "Coach (Bill) Belichick did an outstanding job...I'm pretty numb right now, but definitely, I got outcoached. I didn't do nearly good enough for our football team." [...]

"We knew we couldn't come out here and just play one thing," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. "We couldn't just come out and play zone. We couldn't just come out and play man. We knew McVay is too good. (Jared) Goff is too good. They got too many good skill players out there, but we also knew from a defensive standpoint we were good enough to do multiple things. It's something we worked on all year. You guys have been seeing it.

"Whether it's been two high safeties, one safety, we've done so many different things this year. And I think that goes a lot to the guys studying and coaches coming up with things that might be tough, but knowing that we can take it on and accept the challenge."

In the end, that expectation of heavy man-to-man coverage never materialized.

"This is probably the most zone we've played," McCourty said.

Much to McVay's surprise.

"They mixed it up," he said. "They had played almost exclusively man coverage principles and decided who they can take away... They had a great game plan."

He continued, "They definitely changed it up with what they had done over the past couple of weeks, especially when you look at some of the things that enabled them to have success against the Chargers and against the Chiefs. They still played some front structures that we anticipated and they did an excellent job with it... Their coverage principles were definitely mixed compared to what they put on tape. They did a great job, and it is something that I'm disappointed that I didn't do a better job of adjusting in the framework of the game. That is one of the things that makes them great."

This was a game that once again highlighted the Patriots' pliability. This is what they do: Everything is week to week with New England. They are, perhaps, the most difficult team in the league to prepare for because of the range of possibilities you must take into account.

All the Pats teams have been a function of coaching, but this was pretty much '85 Bears level out there.

How Belichick's Master Plan Unfolded (Andy Benoit, 2/04/19, SI)

[T]he Patriots defense presented Goff with a gameplan few quarterbacks could swallow. It was perhaps the most masterful strategizing seen from Bill Belichick since the last time he bested a juggernaut Rams offense, in Super Bowl XXXVI. In that Super Bowl, Belichick unveiled the totally unexpected tactic of hitting running back Marshall Faulk every time he released into a route. In this Super Bowl, Belichick unveiled another unexpected tactic: Quarters coverage, a matchup zone concept where the two outside corners and two deep safeties each cover one-fourth of the field.

"We anticipated that we would see some unscouted stuff," said Sullivan. "Playing Cover-4 was unscouted. Or it was different from them, let's put it that way." The Rams had struggled against Quarters earlier in the season, most notably in Week 13 at the Lions, who deployed it for the first time under head coach Matt Patricia, the recent Patriots defensive coordinator who runs a Belichick-style man-to-man scheme.

"The gameplan tonight kind of unfolded the way we wanted it to unfold," said one Patriots defensive assistant. "We didn't execute it perfectly, but our players did a really good job of marrying the rush with the coverage and handling this scheme."

Quarters is usually seen on passing downs, but the Patriots, just like the Lions, employed it on first and second down. That's when L.A.'s passing game, predicated heavily on play-action, is at its most dangerous. In Quarters, the two inside safeties can take away the slant and post routes that Goff throws with such great anticipation. For good measure, the Patriots beefed up their coverage prowess by replacing free safety Duron Harmon with cornerback Jonathan Jones, a third-year slot corner who had not played safety until this game. "I knew it was in the gameplan from the beginning," Jones said. "Just something we adjusted. That's the name of the game."

Because it puts both safeties back, it's dicey to play Quarters against a strong running team like Los Angeles, which is why Belichick featured a second schematic wrinkle: 6-1 fronts. New England's outside linebackers aligned up on the line of scrimmage, taking away the edges that L.A.'s foundational outside-zone runs aim to exploit. With those edges secure, New England's interior defensive linemen were more inclined to penetrate gaps, as opposed to just clogging them. That disrupted L.A.'s run-blocking cohesion. Even better, it disrupted parts of the Rams' passing game, which has been praised all season for being so well married to that run game. That marriage begins with the Rams placing receivers in tight splits, just a few yards off the ball, as opposed to out wide. It's an unconventional approach that presents more route running opportunities, especially on play-action.

Of course, all you really need to know about why Bill is so successful is that the NFL's next genius did not prepare for the defense that a Patriot's assistant used against him effectively earlier in the season.

Posted by at February 4, 2019 3:57 AM