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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Beware the Bespoke Bill Belichick Game Plan

About Super Bowl XXV, there is a famous story between the Bills and the Giants.

A week before the game, then-Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick began a meeting with his players, stating that if they let Buffalo run Thurman Thomas for 100 yards, they would win the game. Think about it for a moment, and realize that this was a suggestion that required some salesmanship. The Giants had the NFL’s top-ranking scoring defense and fourth-best running defense in the 1990s, and NFL defenders are generally unwilling to commit opposing offenses to anything, so pardon Belichick’s players if they did immediately. His suggestion was not accepted.

“The room exploded, basically,” former Giants linebacker Karl Banks, who started for that team, told me. “But then he says, ‘Calm down.’ And that’s when he went into the data.”

The Bills defeated the Giants in their regular-season meeting and were the highest-scoring team in the NFL that season due to their explosive no-huddle offense. Belichick didn’t think the Giants could keep up with him in their base defense. The Biles played so fast that in order to film his players from Buffalo’s 51–3 victory in the AFC Championship Game, Belichick had to split the coach film and the broadcast film together because the coach film would regularly miss plays. Was. He was convinced that Buffalo was sufficiently committed to that style of offense that it would continue to pass even as the Giants swapped the down lineman for an additional linebacker and tried to cut crossing routes and swing passes.

“I didn’t feel like we wanted to get into a game where he threw the ball 45 times,” Belichick said, according to the Giants’ 25th anniversary series on that team. “I knew that if they had some success driving the ball, they would stick with it. And I always felt that when we needed to stop the race, we could stop it. As many times as they ran it were, they just got a little time to get it [Andre] read or get it [James] Lofton or throw it to Thomas, who I thought was more dangerous as a receiver, because there was more room than when he was a runner. ,

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In the end, it’s remarkable how closely Belichick’s description of that game plan matches the fundamentals of most modern NFL security. At this time, however, it was mostly radical to suggest playing a game with two linemen and encouraging Bill to run the ball. Remember, popularizing concepts like efficiency and the value of passing the early decline was decades away. But while the idea initially faced setbacks and confusion, players quickly got on board. Once Belichick devised the plan, he understood it and believed it.

Former Giants linebacker Steve Doc told me, “I was the first to get out in the big nickels, so when I saw the game plan, I realized I wasn’t going to get close to play time.” “But we just understood what a job was and everyone had their part in a job. So way [the game plan] evolved, no one was in a situation where they were doubting anything. We knew we were in an excellent position if we were able to do what we were planning to do. ,

It helped that Belichick’s players trusted his insight and his preparation, so much so that the team’s first game-plan meeting of the week was an anticipated event.

“One thing we wanted to see with Bill was what he was going to present in terms of strategy because he spent so much time on it,” Banks said.

Super Bowl XXV. Karl Banks faced Andre Reid during
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

The living room was Belichick’s atelier, and the players who stepped in felt like they were getting fitted for a custom suit. In the case of that game, the changes worked perfectly: Thomas got his 100 yards (135, actually), but Giants defender Bill was there to hit the receivers to catch either the first or nearly every pass. Were. New York effectively ran the ball from 40:33 to 19:27 to control possession time, and won 20–19 when Buffalo missed a last-second field goal. The defensive game plan, written on note paper with sections like “no-huddle adjustments,” is now in the Hall of Fame.

The Patriots will face the Bills for the third time this season on Saturday. Their first meeting was in Buffalo in Week 13, which New England won by running the ball on nearly every play (quarterback Mac Jones attempted three passes) to combat 50-mph gusts. The Bills won the second meeting in the 16th week under normal circumstances. Leveling the season series helped propel Buffalo to a second-straight AFC East title and quelled some concern that Tom Brady’s world would regain his older brother’s position in the New England division after only a year. Was about to

In that second meeting, under more normal circumstances, it was shown that the Bills are probably the better team, with a more talented roster and a better quarterback in Josh Allen. Buffalo’s main concern is that Belichick will get out his tape measure and scissors and devise a game plan to stop them. That’s how the Patriots won the first meeting in the air, with an almost all-around aggressive plan that will look as strange in 2021 as it was in 1991 to purposefully abandon the running yard. That’s how they’ve won games like Super Bowl LIII, when the Patriots went from having the heaviest man-to-man coverage defense in the NFL to playing 61 percent zone coverage to defeat the Rams. And that’s how he defeated the Chiefs in the 2018 AFC Championship Game, with a plan focused on ball control and keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field. If you’re noticing that these games don’t seem to have a consistent planned trend, that’s it. Many great football coaches are designers with signature looks. Belichick is a tailor, making every game plan a bespoke creation. And his players never go off the rack.

“We know each other very well. I am sure there will be wrinkles,” Belichick said on Wednesday. “I am sure there will be things that both teams will do that will keep the other team off balance or make them look a little different. Will try to give.”

Buffalo Bills vs New England Patriots

Josh Allen looks to throw on the run during the Bills’ Week 16 game against the Patriots
Photo by Maddy Malhotra / Getty Images

Part of Belichick’s game-planning mastery is sheer insight, the ability to visualize a game or a play with dozens of variables and noise-separated signals at best, but it’s mostly simple attention to detail and nearly endless preparation. In the 1990s, when film technology was not as advanced as it is now, most coaches went back four games to study an opponent. Belichick didn’t find the four-game sample size reliable, however, so he would see eight. If he has seen a team doing something in the course of four matches, he considers it a trend. However, over the course of eight weeks, he believed the teams showed you their instincts.

“If a team does something for four weeks it is subject to change,” Banks said. “If they do it in eight weeks it becomes a trend and that’s what they are.”

At the Super Bowl, Belichick was confident that the Bills would not give up on his passing game, even if the Giants were calling it off, as it was his hallmark throughout the season. The 2021 Bills game, however, presents a different test case for Belichick, as he has changed his offensive approach late in the season with good results. The Bills also have an excellent passing game, but have tried to improve their running game, especially after a 3-5 stretch between Week 6 and Week 14. In a Week 14 loss to the Buccaneers, Allen did not hit the ball once in the first half in an attempt to escape Tampa Bay’s formidable run defense. The Bucs still closed them 24-3, however, as the Bills ran the ball 15 times in the second half and overtime, with Allen keeping eight of them. They still lost, but made it close in the second half, and using Allen as a runner to add balance to the offense helped Buffalo correct toward the end of the season—his four best rushing performances. Have come since that Tampa Bay game.

When the Bills defeated the Patriots in New England in Week 16, Allen ran 12 times for 64 yards, so Belichick has recent experience with the added dimension of Buffalo. In 1991, Belichick used the fact that Buffalo had Always There has been a passing team and will likely be with that against them; He has to decide how he wants the Patriots to defend Allen, given how effective the 6-foot-5 quarterback is in and out of pocket.

Belichick said, ‘The ball is in his hand. “He can do a lot with it, make all the throws at all levels of the field, clearly run with the ball, grapple, extend plays and throw it.”

As was the case in the first meeting between these teams, the weather can be a factor, as I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear that Saturday is expected to be very cold in Buffalo. It’s a fact of life for teams in New York and New England, another thing Belichick understands best. Banks added undershirts (no nylon for ball-catchers or carriers, because it’s slippery), gloves (some types aren’t as good when wet), and how wind would affect the kicking game, as Belichick conceded. Was. Players this week. Good shoes will also be essential—in the 1986 NFC Championship Game, the Giants knew they’d be playing on frozen ground at Meadowlands, so all players got the kind of cleats that Rutgers and Wisconsin used for good in cold games Was. Results that year, then, ran double-moves throughout the game against a team from Washington that was steadily plunging down without good traction, en route to a 17–0 victory.

While Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott and the Bills will be worried about how to stop the Patriots on the field, they will also be thinking about all the details and the little edges they can look for in their opponents. Despite their lead in raw talent, a win for Buffalo would be cathartic, and proof that they are no longer competing for second place behind Brady and Belichick. That pairing is no longer a fact of life at AFC East, some Bill notes with an appetite, but Belichick still is. And he will always have a plan.

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