Time to tap into the Belichick tree
I had an opportunity to watch most of the Rams vs Giants game on Sunday and suddenly got a great sense of déjà vu.
Los Angeles only managed 240 total yards on offense — the worst performance since Sean McVay was appointed Head Coach.
They stuttered and stalled and simply couldn’t move the ball.
If it wasn’t for bad mistakes by the New York offense and a blown coverage on a 55-yard touchdown to Cooper Kupp — the Rams would’ve lost and would’ve barely reached double figures in points.
It felt a lot like Super Bowl LIII.
On that night the Patriots held the Rams to 260 total yards and three points — despite LA dominating the league for the entire regular season with a prolific, unstoppable offense.
So what’s the consistent feature here?
Bill Belichick’s plan.
The Patriots had two weeks to prepare for the Super Bowl and cooked up a scheme that could possibly be Belichick’s greatest coaching achievement. Holding McVay’s Rams to three points was incredible.
He tackled LA’s endless misdirection and desire to reach the perimeter by installing athletic players up at the line of scrimmage with the ability to operate in space once they’d diagnosed the play and fly to the ball carrier.
In order to defend the Rams’ deadly outside-zone running game, Belichick played the exact same front. He played a four-man defensive line but flanked it with Patrick Chung and Donta Hightower, creating a six-man surface for the Patriots defense. The Rams weren’t going to get an on edge on this front.
Los Angeles, which ran outside zone more than any other team in the league, ran it just three times against New England. That’s why we saw so little of Todd Gurley, who lost snaps to C.J. Anderson for the second game in a row.
Throwing out the six-man line served its purpose … just like it did when Belichick used the same exact front the slow down the Bears in the 1990 playoffs. Chicago finished that season second in the league in rushing. Against Belichick’s surprise six-man front, the Bears managed only 27 rushing yards on 16 attempts. Nearly three decades later, the strategy worked again, holding a Rams run game that finished third in rushing to 62 yards.
Fast forward nearly three years and here’s a New York Giants team led by Joe Judge — a long time Patriots special teams coordinator — enjoying the same success.
How many rushing yards did the Giants give up against the Rams on Sunday?
58 yards on 23 attempts for an average of 2.5 per attempt.
It worked again.
They’ve found the secret formula to limit the Rams.
Let’s compare this to Seattle’s performance against the same offense. In the last five games between the teams, LA scored 42, 33, 36, 29 and 28 points.
Here’s the total offensive yardage conceded in each game:
2017 (H) — 352
2018 (A) — 468
2018 (H) — 456
2019 (H) — 477
2019 (A) — 455
The Seahawks have a 1-4 record in those games.
Pete Carroll put together the bulk of his current staff in 2018. It was the start of the re-set with a number of high-profile players and coaches departing.
The Seahawks had completely lost their identity and in an attempt to regain control, Carroll appointed familiar faces and people who would run his system.
It was the right thing to do at the time. Seattle recaptured its identity, avoided a huge downturn in results despite the siphoning of talent and quickly got back on track.
Now that they’re three years in it might be time for a rejig. Arguably, they could do with some outsiders to come in and offer new ideas.
It’s not unfair to contemplate the possibility of big changes to the defensive staff at the end of the season. The poor results so far aren’t entirely the fault of the staff — many of Seattle’s issues on defense are down to personnel and team building decisions.
Nevertheless, it seems somewhat likely there will be some moves in the off-season.
It might not be a bad idea to find someone who is currently with the Patriots in some capacity or was part of the staff in 2018 and give them a job.
Belichick’s defense is different to Carroll’s. Sometimes though, you need to steal an idea or two. A new voice can be a good thing.
In 2017 Paul Allen asked Carroll and John Schneider to appoint an outsider in an advisory capacity. Allen wanted to find ways to challenge his GM and Head Coach, to present a new perspective.
Mike Pettine, now the defensive coordinator in Green Bay, was brought in. Pettine’s background is not in the 4-3 under but he spent a year as a consultant in Seattle.
Who knows how Carroll felt about that plan or whether he saw any worth in it? He hasn’t made a similar appointment since.
However — it’s hard not to observe the success New England and New York have had against the Rams being led by the same connected coaching tissue.
One of the main reasons the Seahawks have only won the NFC West once in the last five years is because of the way they play the Rams. Perhaps this year will be different? Regardless — if there are coaching changes in the summer, it might not be the worst idea in the world to identify someone with experience of the plan that has stymied the Rams twice to see if you can bring that same impact to Seattle.
The Seahawks are meeting with an old friend
Snacks Harrison isn’t the only player coming in for a visit this week. It’s been revealed that Mychal Kendricks is too.
This would be a smart addition for the Seahawks.
Kendricks was put in a difficult position in 2019. With the defense operating mostly in base, he was tasked with playing a lot of coverage and trying to offer some pass rush from the SAM position.
Pete Carroll regularly referred to his 4.47 forty at the 2012 combine to justify the move. While he’s certainly still a good athlete, the chances are he’s lost some speed since then.
Nickel cornerback is one of the toughest positions to play in the modern NFL. Having to take on some of those duties as a 240lbs linebacker is a thankless task. His play suffered, he missed 21.1% of his tackles and then he picked up a serious injury.
With the Seahawks moving away from base, he would be the ideal rotational linebacker.
As a pass rusher he graded well last year — receiving a 75.3 grade from PFF for his 84 pass rush snaps
With Bruce Irvin out for the season and Jordyn Brooks seemingly set to miss a chunk of time with a knee injury — the Seahawks’ depth at the position has taken a hit.
And sadly, Cody Barton continues to struggle.
It was bad enough last year when he was being blocked in the playoff by Aaron Rodgers and stiff-armed by Kyle Allen:
You could put it down to some rookie growing pains. Was he unsure of himself? Did he need to settle into the league?
He certainly needed to improve though. There were too many mistakes, too many missed opportunities.
Last Sunday in Miami was his first chance to start this season and it didn’t go well. Again — he was missing tackles, being juked in the open field and he just doesn’t seem to have the ability to read and react. He could make up for that by playing with an aggressive, physical nature but that’s also missing (see above).
His PFF grade against the Dolphins was a 48.1 with a horrible 40.1 tackling score.
Reportedly he’s carrying a quad injury. The Seahawks can’t afford to carry anyone this year though, especially with the defense in the state it’s in.
Kendricks might not suit playing as a hybrid SAM/Nickel in an ambitious (and possibly misguided) return to base defense. As a third linebacker complementing Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, however, he’s certainly up to the job.
If Jordyn Brooks is going to be out for some time it makes sense to bring him in.
As for Barton — it’s hard to know where he goes from here. They wouldn’t be meeting with Kendricks if they weren’t concerned. Is he salvageable? They traded up in round three for him in 2019 but he’s just not showing enough.
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