How the Patriots do it
An inside look at keys to New England's dominance
Posted: Monday December 31, 2007 12:17PM; Updated: Tuesday January 1, 2008 11:03AM
Having sandwiched some time as a Patriot in 2005 and 2006 with stints on other teams both before and after, I've seen firsthand why New England is so successful.
Nobody likes the team that wins all the time and perhaps that leads to the healthy antagonism a lot of players have for New England. But deep down, guys who who haven't played there wonder what makes that organization so special.
Where do they get that unfailing confidence and belief that they are going to win every game? Why does it always seem like they know what to do in order to beat opponents, and also precisely what other teams are going to try to do to beat them?
There are many reasons why the Patriots have won three Super Bowls this decade and had the first 16-0 season in NFL history. From top to bottom, they seem to do everything better. Here are the five biggest elements of success I've observed in my time with and against New England.
Clearly identifying keys to the game
Every coach talks about the keys to victory but they tend to do so in broad terms, like "run successfully," "stop the run," and "take care of the football."
Bill Belichick specifically details what must be done for the Patriots to win. He's more likely to say: "We can't let Hines Ward beat us on crossing routes on third down," or "we have to be successful running our scat screen early in the game".
He states the keys on Monday and reinforces them every day of the week to the point where all 53 players on the roster have it ingrained in their consciousness by game day. Players realize that if they take care of these things, they win.
Developing the perfect game plan
New England may do something like go no-huddle against Buffalo in 2003 to tire out mammoth defensive tackles Sam Adams and Pat Williams. Or they'll have four or five linebackers walk around before blitzing in order to confuse a young center or quarterback. You can be sure that the Patriots are going to bring something new to the table every week
Most coaches pay lip service to taking away opponents' strengths, but Belichick practices what he preaches. If he identifies Pittsburgh LB James Harrison as the Steelers best pass rusher, he will make sure right tackle Nick Kaczur always has help. If Ben Roethlisberger making plays on the run is his biggest fear, he will devise a disciplined pass rush scheme that forces Roethlisberger to throw from the pocket. They will go out of their way to ensure that their opponent doesn't beat them with their strengths.
Being proactive in acquiring personnel
I got released by the Bills at the end of training camp in 2005. I had a plethora of workouts that fall for teams that had injuries to offensive linemen.
I worked out for the Patriots later in the year. Personnel man Scott Pioli told me they really wanted to sign me after the season for the next year. Here they were going for a third straight Super Bowl title and they were working on next year.
Building a team, not a collection of athletes
The most critical ingredient in the Patriots' success is the people they select to be on their roster. They put more research into a player's character, work ethic, and most importantly, love of the game of football than they do in his 40-time or vertical jump.
The more guys you have in the locker room who truly love football, the better chance you have to be successful.
It would be foolish to talk about the Patriots' success without singling out Tom Brady. He is given a great deal of freedom to change plays and protections at the line of scrimmage. Their scheme allows him to re-identify the opposing Mike linebacker in both run and pass plays to always put the Patriots in a more advantageous situation. This critical ingredient allows Brady to consistently audible into running plays in which his linemen have better angles and pass protections that pick up the blitz and allow him to throw deep against man coverage.
Just as important is Brady's unique combination of magnetism and confidence that single him out as the team leader. Every player in that huddle believes they are going to win because of Brady's presence.
During my time in New England I worked as a backup lineman and often had to snap to Brady while playing center. In spite of all of the other chaos that he had to sort through, he always found the time to look me squarely in the eye and say, "C'mon Ross, me and you, let's get a great snap first."
I never wanted to snap a ball so well in my life.
I was a veteran in my fifth and sixth years in the league while in New England and I had started over 20 games, but Brady's ability to single me out and make me feel important for the success of the play was unlike anything I had experienced.
Imagine 52 other guys feeling that way every Sunday and you will begin to truly understand why Brady and the Patriots are redefining perfection.
Ross Tucker has played for five different teams in his NFL career and is currently on Injured Reserve with the Washington Redskins. He has joined SI.com as a regular contributor on the NFL beat.