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Learning From The Patriots

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Last thing I want to see is New England win another Super Bowl and their model-y good looks QB win yet another MVP. I don't just drink the Hatorade, I own stock. I hate those bastards, and even more their fans. But let's pull a Giuliani and make this tragedy about us.

What can we take from them to apply to our own program? Yes, they keep winning. But why? And how?

So we interrupt this issue of the Free Republic to bring you a breakdown of what makes the Patriots the Patriots, and what we can take from that to help get Texas to the level they should be.

The first answer is the most obvious and hardest to replicate. Step one, get yourself one of the best QBs to ever play the game. We did that two years ago and it worked out just fine, but that's not really something you can rely on of course.

Also, most of the Patriot's genius is based on resource management. They don't pay premium prices for non-premium players. This gives them cap flexibility. They invest their money and draft picks in certain positions, instead of paying whatever good players they get a shot at. This helps them get the most out of their dollars. Set up a plan and follow it, i.e. don't hire Gene Chizik when you have nobody capable of playing his scheme.

Here, we don't have salary constraints. If we wanted to buy a bunch of players, we could. There is no cap. Our locker room costs about 50 times what your house did. Our talent pool is essentially everyone we want minus the 2-3 players OU manages to get, and the 2-3 players we let leave because they don't have the qualifying score at the academic decathlon.

So what can we take? Outside of a player so good he can win games on his own, and spendthrift financial policies, the Patriot teams of the of the Belichick era do have a lot of things in common on the field. Let me show you a list I made.

My list, let me show you it:

1. It all starts up front. The first 6 first round picks Belichick made included 4 linemen (3 defensive) and 2 tight ends. This is not drafting to need or best player available, his is a team that has made a choice as to where they want to be strong. Had all 3 DL not turned out well, they probably would've picked a few more until they got 3-4 they could rely on.

On defense, everything this team does starts from its DL being able to rush the passer and stop the run. They can stay back in coverage and play games because they know, eventually, their guys up front will get a sack, cause an incompletion, or get a TFL and put the opposing offense in a 3rd and long. There is no need to risk giving up a big play when you can do the same thing other teams do with blitzes with your base rush. Look back at the AFC title game and count how many times Rivers had to throw a ball away or force a throw off balance because of pressure. Richard Seymour is probably the most underrated defender in the league and is the most important player on the defense just because of how many aspects of the game he takes away from you. He is Albert Haynesworth without the head-stomping . . . maybe.

If you can get 4 people to harass the QB, it virtually eliminates any deep threat the offense has. Remember all the fans complaining that we never threw deep when Chris Simms was here? The reason we didn't was because any time we tried he was sacked in 2.5 seconds. That's about as long as ScipioTex can make it before using a Dennis Miller-lite simile. That's how short that amount of time is.

On offense, having good blocking gives you huge advantages over the offense. For the Patriots, it allows them to pass about 75% of the time. Having a QB that can throw an accurate pass 20 yards downfield while horizontal to the ground after being plastered by a 280 pound bowling ball certainly helps, but most of the time he gets the time he needs. Usually, passing so liberally leads to bad results. New England can get away with it due to both the nature of their passing game and their stellar OL.

There is a second advantage to it that most pass heavy teams don't have. Notice that when San Diego proved they could contain New England's passing game, the Patriots put all those first round pick TEs into the game and ran their asses directly over. Having an OL that can both pass block and run block so flawlessly provides amazing flexibility for offenses. If the Oilers couldn't run back in the day, they would do things like give up 35 point leads in a single half, not bulldoze their way to victory over a really good defense.

But, you might say, the New England OL isn't overly athletic or big. Then you might say, how can we pick, with any certainty, the OL that will become good players? It seems to be based more on technique than anything!

2. It's based on technique more than anything. - I heard a quote from Gregg Popovich a few weeks ago while watching an NBA game. Haha, just kidding, who watches the NBA before May? I was actually waiting out the end of the game in order to see Just Shoot Me reruns on the CW. Anyway, the quote was "Don't do it fast, do it perfect." The moral of the story being, doing things the right way is much more important than doing things the right speed.

The Patriots would seem to exemplify this saying. In a league where worthless players get drafted highly based on speed alone, it would seem almost counterintuitive to give carries to Heath Evans. They actually pay Junior Seau and Teddy Brucshi, despite the movie they starred in. The two most important players on offense are a 6 foot statue at QB with a mediocre arm and a 5'7 WR who could not beat Shaun Rodgers deep.

Maybe we are putting a little too much importance on speed, hmm? It certainly helps if you have it, but the ability to move doesn't mean automatic success. Being able to figure out where you need to be before the opponent gets there is, in my opinion, the single most important important thing about playing defense. It doesn't matter how you do it. If you process slowly but run quickly, you can get away with it in college, and vice versa. But in the pros it's a different league. The legendary speed of the game isn't only because of the sheer athleticism, it's because in order to play in the NFL, you have to know what you're doing.

The Mack Brown era at Texas has been defined by athletes. We welcomed back speed on defense, spun down every safety we could find, and stopped playing 330 behemoths on the OL. Yet our best DE was Aaron Humphrey. Our best OL in the history of the school had three nasty SOBs in the middle that didn't have NFL measurables. The highest drafted among them went in the 6th round, yet they dominated.

We need to recruit players that know how to play, not raw athletes with potential (for the record, I think we do a pretty good job of this already). Simply put, technique and anticipation make you fast.

Imagine a footrace between two identical racers down a hallway that ends in a T intersection. Only Racer A knows which direction to turn, Racer B doesn’t. Armed with this knowledge, Racer A will never lose. Not knowing which direction to run will slow down Racer B when he has to look both ways for a finish line and eliminate him from contention. The only chance he has is to guess, but if he’s wrong he just loses by more. In the NFL, you can guess, but you have to be right about 60 times in a row. Not good odds.

And that's what the Patriots defense amounts to: 11 Racer A's. The only position on the team that has above average NFL athleticism is the defensive line, and the rush ends. The blueprint is pretty obvious, I think. Find yourself 4 or 5 guys that can rush the passer and slice through run blocking, and the rest of the defense only has to be guys who know where to stand.

Of course there is more to being in the right place at the right time, you also need to be able to finish. As in, don't let the tight end run 8 more yards after you touch him, Robert Killebrew. I can't tell you how many 3rd and 6s we turned into 3rd and 1s.

3. Don't force it. Here's a novel thought. If you don't have the personnel (or the creativity . . . 15 seconds in) to get 2 yards with smashmouth tactics, then don't keep trying. This took Greg Davis ten years to figure out, apparently, only recently using playaction out of our goalline sets.

This is one of the best things about Belichick. The strength of his offense are his QB and the technicians on the OL. So instead of trying to run people over in short yardage situations like the Parcells disciple he is, he spread them out like Bill Walsh. Like, 5 WR spread them out. If you'll recall, we did this briefly back in 2002ish after Davis learned it from his bff Mike Shanahan.

You've probably noticed if you've seen even one Pats game that it's really hard to cover quick players and keep them from getting 2 yards, especially with slower LBs. There are creases that will always be there. Usually, the pass will be gone before the pass rush gets to you. It's Tech's offense, but situationalized.

This past season we watched, time and time again, a helpless RB smash into a wall of large men in short yardage. Yet we have a stable of sure handed WR and a QB who can make quick decisions and can scramble. You tell me what you'd rather be doing.

Find something you're good at and use it. You don't need 3 TEs just because that's what everyone else does. Use your strengths.

4. Play your game, until you can't. There were 4-5 Pats games this season that all had a similar pattern. New England would get down by two scores, say 9-11 points, with about 10 minutes left. At that point, their opponents failed to get even a single first down, and the Patriots scored at will. This happened most recently against the Giants in week 17. New York was moving the ball well until the moment they really needed to, and 100% of that reason is Bill Belichick and his coaching staff.

You need to play your game. You need to do what you do well regardless of what the opponent brings to the table. But at some point, it's inevitable that the other team will shut it down, whatever it is. This is when coaches earn their paychecks.

New England doesn't blitz a whole lot. They don't really have to, being so good up front and all. But New York has a quality OL* and was not having much problem protecting Eli Manning. Then, in the 4th quarter, New England started coming, and the Giants offense was shut down from then on out. They played their game until they needed to change, and they usually dial up the right answer.

Remember that infamous Derek Fisher shot that beat the Spurs on a last second desperation heave? Most any Spurs fan will pinpoint that shot as the turning point of the series. And yes, it's entirely possible San Antonio wins that series if Fisher misses. But I say the Spurs still lose. In games 1 and 2 Tony Parker basically made LA his plaything. He was in the paint and doing whatever he wanted, as LA watched helplessly.

Come game 3, LA completely packed it in. The lane consistently had 4 guys in it, all willing to harass Parker should he enter the paint. Since this was the era of San Antonio teams that couldn't hit the ocean from a boat, the Spurs sputtered. They lost the next two games in LA scoring only 171 total points. When Duncan hit his own miracle shot in game 5, it gave the Spurs a grand total of 73 points. They lost game 6 scoring 76. Phil Jackson crippled San Antonio.

But that is basketball, where coaches get 48 hours between games to think and adjust. And if you lose one, no big deal. As the Lakers showed, you can come back easily if you adjust. Football coaches are not so lucky. You get 20 minutes at halftime. Winner takes all. In college, where every game matters, it becomes even more critical to have a coach that can think on his feet. Pattern recognition becomes important (Nate Hybl just handed off to Quentin Griffin again, Carl). This is why Belichick is so insanely valuable to his team. He can see what his opponent is trying to do and take it away when it matters most. He makes these calls with only 2 hours of game behind him.

Our OC takes entire offseasons to make changes. Duane Akina has had that mustache since middle school. My hope is Muschamp can see when something isn't working, hopefully starting with Rashad Bobino and Ryan Palmer in the spring. Maybe Major Applewhite can nudge Greg Davis in the box and tell him to run something other than the same damn off-tackle zone for the 18th straight time. That is just the optimist in me.

"And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality." Wisdom 3: 4

5. Do it perfect, every time. You panic under pressure because you are unsure. You sweat before the presentation of your Superfudge book report (coughHenryJames) because you don’t know how the audience will receive you. Your voice cracks and makes things worse. All you can think about it how bad you're bombing, and how you're letting Judy Blume down. Your lack of poise is your downfall.

The Pats don’t crack, though. They tank through teams in the 4th quarter like somebody threw them a can of spinach. This is because of how they practice. Practice makes perfect, right? Wrong! Perfect practice makes perfect. There is an underlying tension in Boston every single day to do everything flawlessly. This tension carries over to games and cancels any circumstantial pressure because New England is so used to having a base level of stress anyway. It's like giving Keef Richards a joint. What it going to do to him that hasn't already been done ten times over?

They operate efficiently in the clutch while the other team folds. They have confidence because they do it right every minute of every day. This is what any good team has to do, and this is the trait that defines the New England Patriots. Perfectionism begat perfection.