Belichick: History shows no right or wrong way to game plan

894953.jpg

Belichick: History shows no right or wrong way to game plan

FOXBORO -- The Patriots game plan changes each week. They do what they think works best against that particular opponent, rather than continuing to solely stick to their biggest strengths each week, regardless of who they're playing.

As Bill Belichick game plans for the New York Jets, he opened up on Friday, saying, just because that's New England's philosophy, doesn't mean it's the only way to be successful.

The Patriots coach goes back to his high school days, where he won "a ton of games with two different teams under two completely opposite philosophies.

The first year, their offense only ran four plays.

"We ran four plays: 22-Power, 24-Quick Trap, 28-Counter, and Sprint-Right," said Belichick. "That was it. And when we ran it to the other side, we just flipped the formation. O-line flip, and a play went the other way.

"That was the offense. That was the entire offense. And we won a lot of games."

One year later, it was the exact opposite, with the quarterback calling his own plays from a much more extensive playbook.

"That was about as opposite as you could get, from one year, to the next year," said Belichick. "We won just as many games. It was totally different. But both were very successful. So, what's the right way to do it, what's the wrong way to do it? I don't know. Whatever works. Whatever you believe in. But then it all has to line up that way."

Belichick went on to point out that the same type of differences are seen in NFL philosophies. He continued by telling the story of his time with the Denver Broncos early on in his NFL career, where he was an assistant special teams coach and a defensive assistant.

"There were game plans where we had 60 different defensive fronts," said Belichick. "It's hard to imagine 60 different fronts, really, in a 3-4 defense. But that's what it was. Like 60 different alignments."

Then when Belichick began a 12-year stint with the New York Giants, he saw the same type of 3-4 defense. It just wasn't as complicated, but yet, just as successful as his defense in Denver.

"We played one front, with one adjustment," said Belichick. "We reduced the end on the weak side from a 4-technique to a three-technique. And that's it. Then I'd say, 95 percent of the snaps that we played -- from 81-to-90 that weren't Nickel snaps -- over 90 percent of them had to be either base or reduced front. Maybe 95 percent. Might have been higher than that.

"Two good defenses . . . same 3-4, two totally different philosophies."

Through it all, Belichick has learned to take some things with him. He's also told himself that there were things he'd never do. He's a combination of everything he's seen thus far, from high school to the NFL.

And on Sunday against the New York Jets, his philosophy will be to game plan for nobody other than the New York Jets.

That's his philosophy.

Mitchell (knee) 'feeling well' as he prepares for AFC title game

patriots_malcolm_mitchell_121216.jpg

Mitchell (knee) 'feeling well' as he prepares for AFC title game

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Mitchell indicated before Wednesday's practice that he's feeling pretty good despite missing last weekend's Divisional Round matchup with the Texans due to a knee injury. 

"I'm feeling well," he said. "Just taking it day by day. Preparing. I just go from there."

Mitchell suffered the injury in a Week 16 win over the Jets at Gillette Stadium. He missed the regular-season finale and has been limited in practice in recent weeks. 

Mitchell was present for Wednesday's fully-padded practice outdoors, and he said it was crucial for him to prepare as though he will play even if he's unsure as to whether or not he'll be called upon. 

"That's the most important thing," he said. "Be ready for any opportunities that could come about."

He added: "As a competitor, no one wants to miss a game. What's important is the team going out theere and competing whether I was out there or not."

Should Mitchell be at all limited moving forward, the Patriots would likely continue to lean upon Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan as their top options. Both Danny Amendola and Michael Floyd were in uniform for last weekend's playoff matchup with Houston as well. 

Hogan suffered a thigh injury that knocked him from the Texans game, but he said on Tuesday that he was progressing well, and he was also on the field for Wednesday's practice. 

Mitchell said there is a sense of confidence in the receivers room that because of their depth, they'll be good to go as a group even if one or two members of the unit are at less than 100 percent. 

"We know there's some things we can't control," he said, "but our coach does a good job of getting everybody ready."

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

steelers-patriots-leveon-bell-011817x.jpg

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test.