It happens every year. From the NASCAR package to RPO’s, teams often try to take a page from the playbook of the most recent Super Bowl champion. So what will it be this year in the copycat league? We discuss that and more in this edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com after the New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in Super Bowl LIII.
JOHN SCHMEELK:This question would have been so much easier if the Rams won the game. The answer would have been more use of the play-action pass. Teams have been trying (and failing) to copy what the Patriots do for nearly two decades. What makes the Patriots special is their flexibility and adaptability to the players on the roster year-to-year and even week-to-week. The way the Patriots played offense this season was completely different than in their other Super Bowl runs.
Bill Belichick has the ability to get a feel for what his teams do well and completely shifting gears midseason to what he thinks gives his team the best chance to win. He gets his players to buy into it, even though it might adversely affect some of them. The Patriots ran their offense this year like a team from the 90s. They used their fullback James Develin more in a couple of the playoff games than other teams used a fullback all season long. This wasn’t your previous iterations of the Patriots where Brady was sitting back there in shotgun with an empty backfield and receivers spread all over the field. They played old-school power football with their run concepts and stuck with it. Despite what Paul Dottino might be dreaming about, other teams are not going to start rolling out a fullback just because the Patriots did it.
The Patriots are just as difficult to copy defensively because they do completely different things week to week. Against the Rams, they sent five guys after the quarterback on a majority of the plays, and ran a ton of stunts with that pressure. If they had a different opponent, their game plan might have looked completely different, and it did in prior weeks. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas told me a story when he came to the Giants about his experience joining the Patriots midseason. He asked for a playbook and the coaches told him there really wasn’t a point because the team didn’t really use it so late in the season. They would do a new install and game plan on defense every week depending on the opponent that was completely different than what they worked on in training camp. In other words, it is their flexibility and adaptability that makes the Patriots impossible to copy, and nearly as impossible to beat.
DAN SALOMONE: The trend is don’t be trendy. Or be so trendy that you have them all in your arsenal because that’s what the Patriots do better than anyone -- they can win in a variety of fashions. Since Sean McVay took over in 2017, the Rams have won one game, including postseason, when they didn’t score at least 26 points. Bill Belichick’s Patriots have 10 such victories in that span. It goes back to the old philosophy that in football more games are lost than won. Within that is the belief you can’t win the game in the first quarter but you can lose it, especially on the biggest stage. The Patriots’ current dynasty under Bill Belichick have played in nine Super Bowls and won six. They have scored three points combined in the first 15 minutes of those nine games. Their culture affords coaches and players to have the patience to see the big picture and win those handful of plays that decide the outcome of a game. That’s why Super Bowl XLII was such an aberration. Yes, the David Tyree helmet catch was a one-in-a-million play, but the Patriots were unable to make the ones they typically do in the loss to the Giants. Asante Samuel dropped an interception on that drive, Steve Smith converted a third-and-11, and the Patriots didn’t audible out of the all-out blitz on the game-winner to Plaxico Burress. New England doesn’t let that happen on a regular basis. The Patriots play situational football better than anyone. So while there are no buzzwords coming out of Super Bowl LIII, that’s just fine with the six-time world champions. They don’t need them.
LANCE MEDOW: Can they duplicate Bill Belichick or Tom Brady? That would be a good start. Over the last two decades, other teams have had ample opportunity to watch how the Patriots operate, so I don’t think this year’s team taught us anything we didn’t already know. If anything, Belichick and company reinforced the importance of specific facets of a team and how critical they are in aiding the success of the overall unit. New England won the battle in the trenches in all three of their postseason games. Brady was sacked just once throughout the playoffs and that was a coverage sack. New England ran the ball effectively with several different running backs. That enabled the Patriots to orchestrate lengthy scoring drives which wore down opposing defenses and milked the clock.
It goes without saying that protecting the quarterback is key, but it’s also important to note the Patriots didn’t go on a spending spree to bolster their line. They acquired Trent Brown (2015 7th round pick) from the Niners to replace left tackle Nate Solder, and the rest of the group is composed of mid to late round picks and undrafted players, all who were developed in-house. Players need to execute consistently, but the production they’ve received from that offensive line as well as the tight ends is also a reflection of solid coaching. The same can be said on the defensive side as the Patriots have taken chances on former high draft picks from other teams, including Kyle Van Noy, Danny Shelton and Adrian Clayborn, and have provided them with an environment to flourish. For the most part, the Patriots kept three of the best offenses in the league (Chargers, Chiefs, Rams) in check in the postseason. How did they accomplish that? Well, their pass rush was relentless and they were very strong against the run. You can’t expect to consistently win games by relying on just one facet. Instead, you need a balanced attack. That’s exactly what the Patriots showcased en route to their sixth Super Bowl title.