Welcome to the 'Backerhood (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday November 6, 2007 10:27AM; Updated: Tuesday November 6, 2007 10:27AM
The Patriots are in pursuit of history, chasing a fourth Super Bowl in seven years and the second perfect season in NFL history, after a 24-20 victory over the Colts on Sunday that ran their record to 9-0. They are a synchronous, steamrollering force, from the front office through the coaching staff to the players. No unit better personifies the soul of the franchise than the linebackers, a collection of veterans for whom greatness is both a moment to be cherished and just another day at the office.
"We've always had chemistry in that room," says Bruschi. "But in the other championship years [2001, '03, '04] we were younger guys. Now we have so many more years under our belt. We appreciate everything that's going on. The wins, the jokes, the people, everything."
They play in a system that Belichick has coached for a quarter century. In simplest terms it's a basic 3-4, with Colvin and Vrabel on the outside and Thomas, Bruschi and Seau in a three-man platoon on the inside. They are part of a defensive philosophy that relies on preparation and versatility to limit an offense's options. "On first and second down New England is a pretty basic 3-4 with good technical football," says Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. "On third down, that's when it gets more interesting, as you're trying to figure out who's rushing, who's not rushing, what they're trying to take away. And the linebackers are all really good football players."
More important, they all fit a Belichick prototype. "A lot of teams draft linebackers to fill specific needs: one guy to be a vertical dynamo, just get up the field and rush the passer another guy to just stuff the run in the middle of the field," says one NFL team staffer. "Bill is looking for a little different guy, somebody who is multidimensional, who can drop or rush, stop the run or pursue. And he's got to be football smart, because there is a lot more responsibility than in a lot of other systems."
Banks says, "It's a system of interchangeable parts, so the offense can't pick out who's rushing and who's dropping off. And accountability is big. The defense is set up for everybody to execute, and if one guy doesn't execute, everybody knows it. There's tremendous peer pressure. You come off the field, and Bill says, 'Who got blocked?' You get confessions."
Belichick has coached a long line of exceptional 'backers, from his Giants' crew to Clay Matthews in Cleveland, Mo Lewis with the New York Jets and McGinest and Ted Johnson earlier with the Patriots. But the current linebacking corps might fit his ideal better than any other.