ATLANTA — Bill Belichick likes to take away the opponent’s best weapon.
No single phrase uttered this week gets under the skin of Super Bowl XXXV winning head coach Brian Billick more than that cliche.
“We all try to take away that one weapon,” Billick said Wednesday. “It’s just that he does it better than anyone else.”
In other words, Billick is more than aware that the true Belichick genius lies in the how not the what.
“They change their game plan completely from week to week,” Billick said. “It’s unique and what makes them special.”
And his 33-year-old counterpart Sean McVay?
“He’s a brilliant coach,” Billick added. “Jared Goff and Tom Brady are running the same plays. I can show you a three-level throw that has a deep, an intermediate and underneath target on 90 percent of the things they’re going to throw. Do it from different formations, boot-and-waggle, play-action, set-up.
“This guy runs the deep, this guy runs the cross, this guy runs the shallow. Edelman’s underneath, Gronk is intermediate and Dorsett goes to the top. Next play, Gronk goes over the top, Edelman is intermediate and Hogan is underneath. It’s just variations of a theme. Sean McVay does it in a very inventive way, where (Goff) can come to the line, get to his protection and change the route-combination, based on whatever you do.”
Billick was the head coach of the Ravens in 2000, when the Ravens won the last Super Bowl before the birth of the Belichick-Brady dynasty.
“The game is morphing toward the more your quarterback has to do,” Billick said. “Tom Brady does it more on a route combination. What on a football field has Tom Brady not seen? So you see him come off the ball right away. Because the minute he sees the indicator of what the coverage is, this guy is open, I’m going there. I’m not even looking any place else. He knows by the defense so readily.”
“Where Jared Goff is still evolving there and is going to try and put himself in a place where ‘I think you’re doing this so I’m going to put these guys in this position that allows me to go to this play. It’s very inventive. It’s brilliant in what they’re doing. They believe in it and they’re very good at it.”
“We’ll see. We’ll get a sense of whatever it is they think. It changes with down and distance.”
“If the Rams win, my guess is that after the game or on Monday we’re going to talk about the game Todd Gurley had, running the ball and (catching) out of the backfield.”
Billick is wrapping his 11th season as a television analyst, a career that has spanned FOX Sports and his current employer, the NFL Network. That is not a career path the 65-year-old Billick can imagine Belichick, two years his senior, taking on.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that Bill would up with some 25-year-old producer in his ear telling him (what to do) from a young kid that doesn’t know a screen pass from a screen door, ‘tell us about this.’ That ain’t gonna happen. Even if he did do it, I don’t think he would enjoy it,” Billick said.
“Every coach does the same thing. Bill just does it better. He’s very situationally focused. He does as good a job as we’ve ever seen in getting the players to understand. I remember hearing Rick Pitino one time talking about basketball, saying ‘I let my guys play. There are four or five times during the course of a game where I have to tactically get them to do something that will impact the outcome of game.’ It’s a little bit more in a football game.”
Decisions, Belichick’s made a few. There’s the end of Super Bowl XLIX. The comeback against the Falcons. The gameplan to shutdown the highest-powered offense in Super Bowl history in 2001. The decision to not let Tom Brady sit on the ball at the end of Super Bowl XXXVI. There were hundreds of decisions made in his five Super Bowl wins that directly led to glory.
There will be those who never understand the Malcolm Butler benching in Super Bowl LII, or the decision to go Cover-0 against the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, leaving Ellis Hobbs on Plaxico Burress at the end. But think about it. Those are two decisions out of thousands covering eight Super Bowls. One was made in the heat of battle, the other out of principle and game planning.
Billick’s point is that no one but no one will distract Belichick from his plan of attack. And no one in NFL history has had more success in game planning the opposition than the Patriots head coach since 2000.
“Bill has a structure you can see him looking, both offensively and defensively, sizing up,” Billick told me. “Whether it’s flipping over to McDaniels or the defensive coordinator, this is happening. We’ve got to do that. And that adjustment, third down, red zone, whatever, he’s as good a tactician of understanding when (he) needs to go into this mode or that, going for it on fourth down, going for the two-point conversion, changing gears and going vertical or deciding to take the air out of the ball and moving his troops in a way that accomplishes what he feels they have to sustain an attack.”
There’s one more quote with that in mind and it’s not from Brian Billick. It’s from the “Art of War” by Chinese general Sun Tzu, and it’s the only sign that hangs in the Patriots locker room.
“Every battle is won before it is fought.”
And there will be many battles to win on Sunday and no one will be more prepared than the Patriots.
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