Belichick vs. Phillips a longstanding battle


Belichick vs. Phillips a longstanding battle

FOXBORO - Bill Belichick's been coaching in the NFL since 1975. Wade Phillips has been in the NFL since 1976.
Both men are the sons of football men and made their bones on the defensive side of the ball.
Their paths have crossed innumerable times. Monday will just be the latest installment in a long-running battle between football minds.
How many times has a team with Belichick on its staff faced a team whose defense was headed up by the Son of Bum?
I came up with 26. Phillips was the Eagles defensive coordinator from 1986 to 1988 and Belichick's Giants beat Philly four straight times before losing a pair in overtime. While with the Broncos as DC and head coach, Phillips went 4-1 against the Giants and Belichick's Brown.
While with the Bills from 1995-2000, Phillips was 6-5 against the Jets and Patriots. Phillips was 1-1 while with the Chargers including a 41-17 beatdown at Gillette and a 24-21 loss in the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoff. The last time Belichick coached against Phillips was when Phillips was the head coach in Dallas and the Patriots hammered the Cowboys.
So overall, Phillips' teams are 14-12 against those coached by Belichick. The style, Belichick says, hasn't varied.
"I think hes pretty much kept the same system through all those (stops)," Belichick explained. "Their 3-4 is really more of a one-gap 3-4 than a two-gap 3-4. They shade those guys and they play a pretty high amount of man coverage, which hes done in the past. It varies a little bit but they play quite a bit of man coverage and then they go to their sub defense which is a dime defense in this case, where they bring in Quentin Demps at safety and whoever the third corner is, theyve had a couple injuries but whoever that third corner is and move Glover Quin down."
To simplify that just a bit, the Texans' defensive line and linebackers are each responsible for a gap in the offensive line. In a two-gap system, defensive linemen need to react to the blockers and occupy "two gaps" by being immovable objects and then flowing to the side the ball is headed while linebackers come up and fill.
A 3-4 defensive end in Phillips' system like J.J. Watt can amass 15.5 sacks and 15 batted balls through 12 games. Meanwhile, a 3-4 defensive end in Belichick's system like Richard Seymour never had more than eight sacks or 36 tackles.
The man coverage element means the Texans will get up and press and redirect receivers, gumming up timing on the outside while the front-seven goes on attack. It's a defense that -- when well-executed -- can make an offense look ugly. The ball needs to come out fast and receivers have to win their routes at the line of scrimmage. The defense doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about creating the best matchup by subbing in and out, said Belichick.
"This isnt the most complicated team weve ever seen, but what they do, they do well," he pointed out. "Theyre well balanced, they do enough things to keep you off balance to complement what theyre doing so theyre not just setting one track. They have a lot of multiples and variables but its contained within the system."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady echoed that, saying, "Its not like there are 120 calls that they have on their call sheet for this game, but there are always wrinkles that you'll see and new things that you havent prepared for. What they do, they do very well."
There's undeniably an element of Ravens, Steelers, Jets, "cuttin' the boys loose" in this scheme. And each of those teams' defenses has given the Patriots issues over the years.
"I think (Phillips) allows his players to go out there and play aggressively and make plays," said Brady. "Certainly when you have guys who can rush the passer the way that he does, you kind of turn those guys loose and let them go do their job. And they get home, and you dont have to come up with 25 overload blitz schemes to do that when youve got players like J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin. They can rush the quarterback and get home and he expects those guys in the secondary to cover, and they can all do that."
They can, but will they? There is a counter to all this. Every scheme has a counter. Executing that counter is what's important. In this instance, the Patriots will have to run the ball well on first down and stay out of second and seven-or-more. If they fail to, their chances of winning that series are reduced because the Texans are so good on third down (46 of 162 conversions allowed for 28 percent). The Texans can be run on. They're allowing 4.1 yards per carry. But they often have been ahead enough to make opponents bail on the running game and throw.
Having a receiver who can consistently win his one-on-one matchup is vital as well. If he can beat one-and-a-half defenders, (a corner and safety, as Detroit's Calvin Johnson did so often on Thanksgiving) more's the better. This will be a huge game for Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Brandon Lloyd hasn't shown that he's physical enough or savvy enough to beat physical corners at the line of scrimmage. If he somehow digs down and finds that in his game, he'll be a focal point. But if he can't -- or the Patriots have already decided that's not his bag -- he may have another quiet game.
As for the counter to the pass rush itself, bet on speed. The Patriots can go warp speed and simply try to wear out the Texans pass rush. At this point, the New England offensive line is conditioned to play at a fast pace. And even if Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly aren't there, every backup has played enough now so that the Patriots can actually run waves of offensive linemen at the Texans. It's an unusual tack to take but it makes some sense.
"Theyre not going to let you off the hook," said Belichick. "They're going to give you the variables every week, youre going to have to decide how youre going to handle them and sooner or later youre going to see them. They do a very good job doing what they do."

Patriots waive Stork after trade with Redskins falls through

Patriots waive Stork after trade with Redskins falls through

It's been a wild week for Bryan Stork. 

On Wednesday, news broke that Stork had been informed of his release. Then before that move became official, the Patriots and Redskins worked out a trade to send the third-year center to Washington. After that, indications were that Stork was retiring, and the Redskins were unsure as to whether or not he would even report.  He eventually decided to report, but ended up failing his physical, voiding the trade. 

Monday, Stork was returned to the Patriots, but the team has announced that they've waived the veteran center.

More to come...


Does Garoppolo need to play Thursday? ‘It’s not my call,’ he says

Does Garoppolo need to play Thursday? ‘It’s not my call,’ he says

FOXBORO - Hard to put a shine on the clunker that Jimmy Garoppolo submitted Friday night in Carolina. Another red zone interception dropped, a fumble recovered by a teammate and almost half (four) of his nine completions caught behind the line of scrimmage. 

Not exactly what the Patriots were hoping for in the third, and perhaps, last preseason outing for their Week 1 starter. Which raises the question: does Garoppolo need to play Thursday in the Jersey swamp?

“It’s really not my call,” he said. “You always want to be out there with your guys. It’s just the nature of the beast; you’re a competitor, you want to be out there, but whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] asks me to do, I’ll do.”

Were Belichick to decide to keep Garoppolo on ice, that would mean the third-year pro would go 16 days between his ugly appearance in Carolina and opening night at Arizona. That is less than ideal. In fact, it seems like a bad idea for an unproven player in dire need of as many reps as can be afforded him (which is why playing Tom Brady last week still makes no sense in this man’s opinion).

“We have to take that into consideration, too,” admitted Bill Belichick. “Again, whether that overrides something or it doesn’t, we’ll just have to see, but yeah, it’s definitely a consideration.”

“I really don’t even think about it like that, to be honest,” said Garoppolo. “Whatever they ask me to do, they ask me to do. “

Garoppolo insists he found out he was starting against the Panthers with only slightly more lead time than he was given the week prior against Chicago. So, there’s a good chance if he plays this week that he won’t know until the day of, which is certainly an acquired taste.

“At first it was a weird - I can remember back in my rookie year it was a weird thing not knowing,” he said. “You just get used to it after a while, mixing and matching with all the different guys, knowing guys’ tendencies and how they play, and you just react to it, really.”

If Garoppolo does get that chance, the Pats need him to react more decisively and more confidently than his last time out. In a summer of unknowns, that’s one thing we can be sure of.



Branch: 'I ain't saying a damn thing' about reason behind suspension


Branch: 'I ain't saying a damn thing' about reason behind suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch was suspended by the Patriots for about a week, a period spanning from before the team's second preseason game against the Bears to just before its third preseason game against the Panthers. When asked about Branch's time away from the field, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called it "a club matter." 

Branch was back in the Patriots locker room on Monday following his first practice since being reinstated, and he followed his coach's lead when it came to shedding light on the reasoning for his week-long departure.

"If Bill ain't telling ya'll, I ain't saying a damn thing, I guarantee that," Branch said. "If ya'll looking for something from me, it ain't happening. I'm just happy to be out here and get ready to play against the Giants. Glad to be out here with my teammates. We're all grinding for the same goal so that's where we're at right now."

Branch was asked if his team-issued suspension was the source of any embarrassment now that he's back.

"I ain't got nothing to be embarrassed about," he said. "Everything's copacetic. My teammates are good. The coaches are good. There's no reason for me to be embarrassed at all."

Branch did acknowledge, however, that the time he missed could have been better spent. While the Patriots practiced without him, he worked out on his own in order to try to stay in shape. At Monday's practice, he was not part of a group that went down to a separate field to do conditioning following warm-ups -- perhaps an indication that his conditioning was where the team expected it to be upon his return. 

"Everything in life is a learning experience," Branch said of his suspension. "I could definitely say it's a learning experience. Every snap on the field is valuable. Every one I missed out there, you know, other people are getting better while I was, you know, staying stagnant or going down with the personal workouts I was doing. I missed some valuable time out there."

Branch is a a big personality on a team that typically takes a business-like approach to the field. Oftentimes during training camp or pre-game warm-ups, when there is music playing within earshot, Branch is not afraid to break out a dance move or two. He also is one of the few Patriots who chooses not to participate in organized team activities in the spring, opting instead to show up for mandatory minicamp before returning home until having to report for training camp. 

Might his seemingly care-free style wear on teammates or coaches, he was asked?

"You gotta ask them, man," he answered. "I'm out here to have fun. I don't want to play football and be mad. If someone else has an issue, you gotta ask them. It ain't my problem."

Signed as a free agent after he was released by the Bills in 2014, Branch has made an impact as a consistent contrbutor on the interior of New England's defensive line. He made 17 starts for the Patriots last season, including both playoff contests, often lining up next to former first-round pick Malcom Brown. 

A second-round selection out of Michigan back in 2007, Branch has had a long and productive career, providing teams with an impossible-to-teach 6-foot-6, 350-pound frame. With the Patriots, though, he's had a bit of a revival as 2015 was his second-highest season-long grade he's ever received from Pro Football Focus, behind only the season he had in 2011 as a member of the Seahawks.

"I love it here," he said. "Love the guys in the lcoker room. Love everything. The atmosphere, the winning attitude. Everything about being here is awesome so I love this place."

The fourth preseason game is traditionally a game that's used by teams to get a look at players vying for final roster spots. Branch seems to be a safe bet to make the roster based on his skill set and experience, but he said he's hoping to play against the Giants on Thursday after having missed each of the last two preseason games.

"Definitely. Like I said before, every snap on the field is valuable experience and time missed if you don't get it," he said. "Every rep I get out there, I'm going to use my full ability to make sure I get everything I can out of it."