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Meeting of the Minds
PETER KING
February 07, 2005
The NFL title game boils down to a battle between the innovative coaching staffs of New England's Bill Belichick and Philadelphia's Andy Reid. What strategy will they cook up, and which team's countermoves will win out?
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February 07, 2005

Meeting Of The Minds

The NFL title game boils down to a battle between the innovative coaching staffs of New England's Bill Belichick and Philadelphia's Andy Reid. What strategy will they cook up, and which team's countermoves will win out?

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? January 2004, Patriots 24, Colts 14: 46% runs;

? September 2004, Patriots 27, Colts 24: 30% runs;

? January 2005, Patriots 20, Colts 3: 57% runs.

"People ask me what offensive system the Patriots run, and I say, 'They don't have one,'" Schwartz says. "[Every week] some coaches say, 'This is what we do.' The Patriots ask, 'What do we need to do to win this week?'"

When each was asked separately to think of a recent play that best illustrated New England's offensive diversity, Belichick and Brady came up with the same one: Brady's 60-yard strike to wideout Deion Branch for the first touchdown against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. The plan had been to get the speedy Branch one-on-one against cornerback Deshea Townsend on a deep post pattern.

In the week before the game Belichick watched tape of the Steelers with Brady and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels, and the three noticed the tendency of safety Troy Polamalu to line up over the slot receiver on certain two-wide, two-tight-end formations. In practice, receivers coach Brian Daboll told the slot receiver who would motion across the formation to the right, David Givens, to run his crossing route 16 yards, rather than the usual 12, so that the Steelers' corner on that side, Willie Williams, would have to commit to Givens and be out of range for a throw to the deep middle. The Pats thought that if Brady eyed Givens, Polamalu would double-team the wideout. At the same time, safety Chris Hope would be occupied underneath by the traffic in the middle and Townsend would be all alone on the faster Branch.

"Charlie, Josh, Brian and I all participated in the coaching and design of the play," Belichick says, "and it was called at the perfect time."

Says Brady, "What was so great about the play is it happened exactly the way the coaches said it would."

On defense, look at the different schemes the Patriots used in playoff wins over the Colts and the Steelers. Against downfield-minded Peyton Manning, New England often dropped an inside linebacker (usually the mobile Tedy Bruschi) deep, freeing the safeties to cover the outside. What Manning saw were three punishing hitters ready to separate his receivers from the ball 20 yards downfield; his longest completion was 18 yards. Against Pittsburgh the conventional wisdom was that the Pats should heavily blitz rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Instead they rushed six or more defenders only once, preferring to fill the secondary with cover players; Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, and two more passes were dropped by New England defenders.

"Romeo encourages differences of opinion [in meetings]," says Rob Ryan, a Patriots assistant for four years who left after the 2003 season to become the defensive coordinator of the Raiders. "He'll listen to everyone, then say, 'O.K., who do we have to stop this week?' He likes new ideas. I remember our first Super Bowl year [2001 season], we're getting ready to play Atlanta. We hadn't run any 46 [the high-pressure, high-risk defense perfected by Rob's father, Buddy] all season, but I thought it would work because Atlanta was a big two-tight-end team we could take advantage of. I said to Romeo, 'How about nickel diamond?' That's what we called our 46. We had nine sacks and won the game."

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