I admit I shouldn't be shocked that the New England Patriots won another Super Bowl Sunday night, and are now tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for most in NFL history at six apiece. In my head I thought the Los Angeles Rams were well equipped to neutralize the Patriots and hand the Patriots another Super Bowl loss. However in my heart I somehow knew you can never bet against the coaching genius of Bill Belichick.
Even when the Patriots have actually been defeated in the Super Bowl, I have been surprised each time. The New York Giants seemingly have the Patriots number for some odd reason, maybe because Belichick was an assistant coach there for so many years before becoming a head coach. It may just be a case of some bad juju.
Last season Belichick's coaching acumen was effectively neutralized by a equally outstanding performance by Eagles HC Doug Pedersen and an inspired performance from QB Nick Foles. Their individual performances were unexpected and seemed to catch the always prepared Belichick off guard a little, resulting in a high scoring Eagle's victory.
This years Super Bowl opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, were anything but unpredictable. The Rams had lit up the league behind Pro Bowl QB Goff and RB Todd Gurley, with young offensive mastermind HC Sean McVay pulling the strings behind the scenes. The Rams were incredibly efficient during the regular season running the ball which allowed them to be the best play action offense in the league.
McVay was able to muster a myriad of offensive creativity off of about three or four set formations. Goff was the calm, cool maestro at the front of Mcvay's orchestra and it appeared they were preparing to take the title of best HC/QB combo. However, someone interrupted their journey to the podium to make their acceptance speech. His name was Bill Belichick.
Last night's game was one of the best defensive coaching clinics in Super Bowl history. If Sean McVay is a offensive mastermind then he met his superior defensive counterpart in Belichick last night. The Rams were totally outclassed and out coached from the start. It was truly shocking to see. The Rams probably still are not sure exactly what hit them. They came into the game confident in their ability to put points on the scoreboard, but it was an unbelievable struggle for them to even achieve a first down. Their extreme confidence in their offensive abilities may have just been their undoing.
The Rams basically went with the same offensive game plan they had utilized all season, and why wouldn't they, when it had proven so successful. Because they were going up against a Bill Belichick defense that had two full weeks to prepare for them. It was no contest really. Belichick was a great defensive coordinator before he ever became a great HC.
He always has a strong OC who he instructs to stick to the basics, kinda along the lines of keep it simple stupid. If the opposition struggles to stop something, like a back out in the flat or Gronkowski up the seam, keep calling it. If they make personnel changes to stop it, adjust accordingly. Sounds simple I know, but surprisingly it isn't. Many teams, such as the Steelers, struggle with in game adjustments. Tom Brady and the offense is fundamentally efficient and always check their egos at the door.
Belichick's superiority is most evident on the defensive side of the ball. His game plan against the Rams was breathtaking in its effectiveness and its execution. He took up residence in Goff's head early in the game and never left. He flummoxed McVay so badly that the Rams HC looked lost throughout the game and had the appearance of a whipped pup by the conclusion of the game.
What makes the performance even more unbelievable is the fact the Patriots defense hadn't looked like that all season. Taking into account the stage and the circumstances, that was the best defensive performance during Belichick's Patriots career.
The Patriots defense is not a collection of Pro Bowl level talent, instead they are a well coached group of fundamentally intelligent individuals who form a cohesive unit on the field. They seldom make self inflicted errors or appear to not all be on the same page pre snap. While it is maddening how often calls throughout the year always seem to go in their favor, it is also true they commit a portion of their practice time specifically toward understanding the rules and how to prevent unnecessary penalties. Sometimes you make your own luck through preparation and discipline. A byproduct of superior coaching.
Now alot of teams will be faced with a dilemma moving forward. The NFL is a copycat league and many franchises are searching for the next Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, or Sean McVay. The next young HC who can grow and mature with a franchise in pursuit of a championship. But the sustained excellence of Bill Belichick and the Patriots may just cause some franchises to rethink how they handle their business.
On most NFL teams at the moment, the HC will be shown the door long before a superstar player. The players make the big bucks and oftentimes appear harder to replace. The HC will be blamed for an underachieving squad and it will be assumed the team is no longer buying into the message the coach is selling. The Patriots success doesn't fit this rational. The difference with the Patriots is Belichick keeps the same message, and that message is winning is the only acceptable goal. However, he changes the cast of characters quite often. Many are not around long enough to grow weary of his message and he keeps his core group of dependable performers around to maintain discipline and balance.
I wonder how long it will be before teams try to mimic the Patriots formula for success? The main problem I see is trying to find the next Belichick. Like Lombardi, Noll, and Walsh before him there is only one.