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Star players And Bill Belichick

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Belichick's quality coaching has enabled him to transform underachievers into overachievers. Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.
Belichick's quality coaching has enabled him to transform underachievers into overachievers. Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

Last Sunday Night against the Falcons, the Patriots did what they did best and what Belichick has done since his old days: forcing the opposing team to try to win without their best offensive weapon.

In the book titled The Education of a Coach, where David Halberstam tells the story of Bill Belichick from Annapolis, Md., to coaching stardom, it is revealed that before SuperBowl XXV, Belichick had told his players that if Thurman Thomas would rush for 100 yards they would win the game. This, of course, was the time when Jim Kelly was quarterback for Buffalo, and what Belichick wanted was to tease Buffalo enough with the run so they would forget that what actually had gotten them to the SuperBowl was the pass. Belichick’s team, the New York Giants, won the SuperBowl. Over the years, the Patriots have always tried to force opponents to win without their best weapon. 

In last Sunday’s game, the main focus of the New England defense was rising start wide receiver Julio Jones. Jones was limited to six catches and 108 yards. The Patriots’ defense bended, but like in many of his past games, it didn’t break. Another receiving threat is coming this Sunday, as A.J. Green and the Cincinnati Bengals are coming up. Will the Patriots cover Green the same way they did to Jones? A.J. Green is part of a less explosive offense than the Falcons, so it is easier to believe that the same will happen. Those two receivers have been drafted highly in the past drafts.

Julio Jones was draftedSixth overall by the Falcons take to off some pressure from wide receiver Roddy White. In the 2011 draft, Atlanta moved up 21 spots by giving its 27th, 59th, and 124th and its first and fourth round picks of the 2012 draft to the Cleveland Browns. Julio Jones has been designated as an upcoming deep threat in the National Football League.

Also available in the 2011 NFL draft was A.J. Green, who was taken fourth overall by the Bengals. The Bengals selected starting quarterback Andy Dalton in the same draft with the 35th pick. Dalton and Green have revived a then moribund offense and have taken the Bengals to two consecutive playoff trips the past years.

The Patriots have had success in the past years, but it is certainly not because they drafted big name players in the NFL draft. Over the past five years, the highest Patriot selection was pick number 10, when linebacker Jerod May was drafted out of Tennessee. In the last nine drafts, the Patriots have only drafted an offensive player three times, and two of these picks were linemen. However, they still continue to post winning seasons and are contenders.

Brady has had success with very diverse receiving corps. Whether it’s with a ground and pound offense or a high flying offense, Brady has led his team to winning seasons. He seems to take the best in his receivers and, with the help of the offensive coordinator, creates game plans adapted for the opponent’s defense. A huge part of the offensive success for the Patriots is also the offensive line, which makes few mistakes and can play nasty. Dante Scharnecchia has been coaching offensive linemen for 15 years with the Patriots. Scarnecchia has worked for the Patriots for 32 years, the second longest coaching tenure in the NFL. He knows how to create a unit and how to get the best out of each player. A great example of coaching from Scharnecchia is guard Logan Mankins, who was drafted as a tackle in 2005 and immediately stepped in for Joe Andruzzi at left guard. Mankins is now a perennial Pro Bowler. Other examples of offensive linemen that flourished under Scharnecchia are Ryan Wendell and Nate Solder. 

Belichick on his part thrives on transforming underachievers to overachievers. He normally goes for high effort players who know situational football. His players might not make eye popping plays, but they are efficient. The best example of such a player is Rob Ninkovich, a speedy versatile defensive lineman who doesn’t rack up incredible stats, but is very smart and seems to have a knack for making important plays. 

The Patriots’ draft strategy is not about only taking talented players; it is about taking players that will fit in. Some players may have the best talent in the world, but in a team sport like football, it is more about cohesion than the pure domination of a single player. Football intelligence is also valorized in Belichick’s draft evaluation, as he knows that in key situations in important games, it is mostly mental toughness and knowledge of the little details of the game that make the difference.

The Patriots’ scouts and coaches do a great job at identifying underappreciated talent and developing within the system. Players know that when they wear the Pats’ uniform, they will be asked to do whatever is needed to win. It may not be pretty, but it has proven to be efficient in the past ten years.

The Bengals will face the Patriots this Sunday. They played well against the Packers, winning 34-30, and played horrible, losing 17-6 in Cleveland. Andy Dalton has played inconsistently thus far, but A.J. Green is still a threat on the outside. Ex-Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 142 yards in the past four games and he forms a good tandem of running backs with rookie Giovanni Bernard.

The Bengals defense has been qualified as elite at the beginning of the season. It allowed 235 passing yards per game, good for the 13th place and 99 yards on the run, good for the 11th best ranked run defense. It counts on elite corners such as Leon Hall, Terrence Newman and Adam ‟Pacman” Jones and can bring up pressure in the middle with all-star defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

The Patriots offense is getting better and better. Kenbrell Thompkins is starting to have a connection with Brady, catching 6 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday’s game. The offensive line is still playing great, giving Brady enough time to find receivers and punching holes for the duo of running backs of Stevan Ridley and LeGarette Blount.

Vince Wilfork is out for the rest of the years with a torn Achilles. Tommy Kelly and undrafted rookie Joe Vellano will have to fill the gap for the veteran Wilfork. Aquib Talib is playing his best football under coach Bill Belichick, as he has four interceptions in his first four games.

The Bengals are a solid team but the Patriots are getting better game after game. It will be tough for the Pats to win at First Energy Stadium, but they will still prevail by a close margin.

Patriots 24- Bengals 20