Over his illustrious professional football coaching career, Bill Belichick has devised clever schemes in the Super Bowl. Does he have yet another one up sleeve in this upcoming Super Bowl?
Back when Belichick was defensive coordinator for the New York Football Giants, his defensive game plan in Super Bowl XXV is legend. Remember, the Bills under quarterback Jim Kelly ran the potent K-Gun offense. Going into this game, the Bills were heavily favored. In fact, late in the 1990 season, the Bills defeated the Giants in the regular season at the Meadowlands. With the Bills projected to blow out the Giants, what kind of defensive scheme did Belichick come up with?
The premise of Belichick's defensive gem was to allow Bills running back Thurman Thomas to gain over 100 yards. For a Giants defense who prides themselves on stopping the run, many members of the Giants defense scoffed at this game plan. But Belichick was steadfast in his approach with his defense. Although many of the Giants defenders had their reservations about Belichick's concept, they bought into his idea. Indeed Thomas gained over 100 yards against the Giants, but the Giants were victorious. In Paul Zimmerman's recap of Super Bowl XXV in Sports Illustrated, here is background information about Belichick's defense.
That was the heart of the defensive scheme New York threw at Buffalo.
Parcells was in charge of the overall concept, but the implementation was left
to Bill Belichick, the brilliant, 38-year-old defensive coordinator who has head
coach written all over him. Four Bills offensive players presented the most
serious challenges: Lofton, who at 34 was enjoying a renaissance as a deep
threat; the slot receiver, Andre Reed; Thomas; and, foremost, Kelly.
Lofton, who usually lines up on the left side, would be the responsibility of
Williams, who comes in when the Giants go with five or six defensive backs, as
they did on Sunday. Everson Walls, the right cornerback in the base defense,
would use his ball-hawking skills at a deep safety position. "I told Perry to
play off Lofton, to give him a little cushion," said Belichick. "The Raiders
played right up in his face, and he killed them. He's so physical, and he has
those long arms that get him by the initial bump. Then [Lofton and the cover
man] get into a speed-quickness thing, and it's all over."
The first pass Kelly threw to Lofton was that 61-yarder deep down the left
side that Williams tipped and Lofton caught. It set up a first-quarter field
goal that tied the score at 3-3. The second one, in the second quarter, was
another fly pattern, but Williams and Walls smothered it. That was the last time
Kelly threw Lofton's way.
The primary responsibility for covering Reed, whose specialty is crossing
routes over the middle and whose greatest talent is making the first defender
miss him after he makes a catch, fell to Reyna Thompson, a cornerback by trade
but a special-teams demon and a sure tackler. He took over for safetyman Greg
Jackson, who for this game became what amounted to a linebacker on tight end
Keith McKeller's side. Thompson's job was to keep Reed in a shallow route and
steer him to the other side, where Banks was waiting.
Kelly worked Reed to death, aiming 11 of his 21 first-half passes his way,
six of them on crossing routes in which Reed got hammered. Reed caught seven
balls, but by intermission he was dropping passes. In the second half he was a
nonfactor, catching the one pass Kelly threw him, a five-yarder. "No other team
ever hit me this hard," said Reed afterward. "You can't even compare this to
anything I've ever been through. They bruised up my whole body."
As for Thomas, he kept the Bills in the game through individual brilliance.
He put Buffalo's final points on the board early in the fourth quarter with a
31-yard run in which he bounced free of safety Myron Guyton's head-on
Finally, there was Kelly, who was having a career season. "There comes a time
when things just open up for you as a quarterback, when you just see things,"
said Simms before the Super Bowl. "You see all the soft parts of a defense, the
things you can attack, instead of the bad things. It happened for me in '85, and
right now it's happening for Kelly."
Kelly's numbers on Sunday were presentable -- 18 completions in 30 attempts
for 212 yards -- but not inspiring. Belichick could deal with Kelly in one of
two ways. He could come up with an exotic blitzing scheme, hoping that the rush
would reach Kelly before he could find a receiver. Or he could play coverages --
rush three or four people, drop the rest of the defenders back and give up the
underneath stuff, though making sure the receivers got jolted. Belichick chose
the latter. He went with two down linemen, usually nosetackle Erik Howard and
end Leonard Marshall, all day, but one of two linebackers, Johnson or Lawrence
Taylor, would line up in a rush position, sometimes coming, sometimes dropping
That was the initial package, but there were variations, with linebacker Gary
Reasons and occasionally safety Dave Duerson coming in for Jackson, or Jackson
sliding over to relieve Thompson on the slot coverage. Belichick used all these
wrinkles, and the result was a Buffalo offense that didn't convert a third-down
play until less than two minutes remained, that was hammered and often
frustrated but that remained game to the end.
"We made them work hard for everything they got," said Banks, who delivered
the most serious hits on Reed and Thomas. "Guys wanted to come across the
middle? O.K., we had people waiting for them. They did things they had to do. I
mean, they played hard. This was classic football. Our defense was sound. There
were no blown assignments. I missed one call, but we covered for it.
"The type of defense we play -- well, you need a lot of veterans. The hardest
thing about it is not to allow yourself to feel rushed. They're running a
no-huddle, but there's still time to line up the way you want to without
rushing. I've seen them hit a long play on film, then all of a sudden the
defense is scrambling around when it should have had its composure. I could
sense that happening to us at one point, so I got everyone together on the
sidelines between series and said, 'Let's be relaxed. Let's not let them rush us
into anything.' The big thing is we played as a team -- t-e-a-m -- I can't
emphasize it enough. We did things as a team this year."
Additionally, Belichick wanted his players to use delay tactics. In between plays, when the umpire immediately spotted the ball, a Giants player was coached to "accidentally" kick the ball. This was designed to interrupt the flow and rhythm of the Bills attack.
Another masterful Belichick game plan was in Super Bowl XXXVI. This time Belichick was the head coach and was up against another potent offense-The Greatest Show on Turf. (St. Louis Rams) Belichick's Bullseye gameplan targeted Marshall Faulk. Whenever he was on the field, Belichick wanted his defenders to hit him. Because Belichick knew Faulk was the key to the Rams offense. If the Patriots can stop Faulk, their chances of winning the game increased. ESPN analyst and author Ron Jaworkski quipped, I'm not sure if one particular photo is mounted on the walls of the Patriots facility, but if it's not, it should be: the image of any New England defender from Super Bowl XXXVI knocking Marshall Faulk on his ass.
What can we anticipate from Belichick in Super Bowl XLVI? Well if the past tells us something, his defense is going to be very physical. The key to the Giants success on offense is Eli Manning. If the Patriots defensive line can generate pressure all evening on Manning, they will win this game. As we witnessed in the second half against the 49ers, the Giants offensive line had difficulty pass protecting. Despite winning the NFC Championship, Eli Manning was hit TWENTY times and sacked SIX times. Needless to say, the Giants offense was stagnant in the second half. As we noted here on this blog, Falcons DE John Abraham voiced his opinion about the Giants offense. “Pretty much just try and get as much pressure on him as possible. He does a great job with his play-action fakes, he does a great job of getting the ball out quick. In order for us to have a good day, we’re going to have to get in his face and have him move out of the pocket.” Even though the Falcons had two sacks (one of which resulted in a safety), for a majority of the game Eli had time to throw the football. And the Packers defense was pathetic. They did not get pressure on Eli. The only team thus far to slow Manning down was the 49ers. Again, most of their damage was done in the second half. Belichick is well aware. And the weak link on the Giants offensive line is center David Baas. Look for Belichick to use DT Vince Wilfork on Baas. Belichick may use a Turkey Blitz against the Giants offense. This is a 5-2 alignment with the defensive linemen stunting.
His defense has to play solid football for an entire 60 minutes. If they are capable of doing this, as a head coach, he will win his fourth Lombardi trophy.