Analyzing the ugly play of the defense, in a previous post, began a backward look at the good, the bad and ugly. This post will analyze the bad. The “bad,” falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff for allowing Bill Belichick to outwit them the past four years. The answer, doesn’t come from trying to find a weakness in the Patriots, it comes from self-examination.
Great coaches all have one thing in common; they study themselves as much as they study their opponent. They know their own weaknesses better than their opponent does. With that knowledge, they can accurately predict what the opponent will try to exploit. The Dolphins were unaware the game plan to generate a pass rush without blitzing or stunting could be mitigated by a two tight end hurry-up passing game.
Benny Sapp became the scapegoat for what was supposedly poor play in the secondary. By cutting Sapp, the Dolphins exposed to coaches like Belichick, they still don’t understand why they lost. Cutting a corner back does not fix the root of a problem that schematically gave Tom Brady the time to pick the secondary apart.
The talk all week has been about a lack of talent and depth in the Dolphin secondary. Only a lack of introspect would lead to the conclusion the secondary could stop Brady within the framework of a poor game plan. There is no secondary in the NFL that will stop Brady when he has enough time to scan the entire field and even return to receivers after breaking off patterns.
Bill Belichick knew his offensive line would be determined as a weakness by his opponent. He knew the Dolphins had strength and depth on the defensive line. He knew the Dolphins would conclude they could get pressure without blitzing and they would try to maximize coverage. By knowing his weakness, he was able to accurately guess his opponent’s game plan.
With this knowledge, Belichick no longer had to worry about offensive line adjustments caused by exotic blitzes or stunts. He no longer had to worry about backs picking up linebackers or tight ends forced to block blitzing safeties and corners. He installed a hurry-up offense with simple blocking assignments geared at stopping the defensive line. It should not be surprising a rookie tackle was able to handle Cameron Wake, when Wake was his only worry.
The Dolphins made protecting Brady easy. Instead of exploiting the opponent’s weakness with aggression, they took the passive approach of trying to beat Brady with coverage. They further exacerbated this mistake by not realizing it was a mistake and making the proper adjustments. The brain trust envisioned Brady making big plays on an aggressive defense, was worse than Brady making plays on a passive defense. The key theme to this entire analysis is, “Brady making plays.”
Around the league and on every NFL related TV program, the common conclusion all analysts share is, beating Tom Brady requires pressure and pre-snap confusion. The Dolphins chose a passive game plan that accomplished neither of those things. The coaches can blame players like Benny Sapp, but bad coaching and poor game planning are the true culprits. Coaching against the likes of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is no easy task and this analysis does not insinuate the Dolphins have bad coaches. They just had a bad plan.
Belichick is a master and the best we can do in life is to learn from the masters. Belichick spends as much time learning about his own team as he does learning about his opponent. Through this introspect he is able to project himself into the mind of his opposition. This enables him to accurately predict his opponent’s game plan. It also allows him change his tendencies and fool his adversaries.
The bottom line is, Brady is going to score points whether it’s through big plays or long marches, the only sure way to stop him is to plant him on his backside. The Dolphins knew the Patriot offensive line did not match-up well against with the Dolphin defensive line. Not expecting Belichick to know this as well, led to the poor decision of using a passive game plan, without blitzing, and thinking Belichick would not have a plan for it.
To counter, Belichick installed a two tight end hurry up passing game that caught the Dolphins in a base defense. Instead of dictating the flow of the game by using the strength of its front seven, the Dolphins were trapped on their heals. Belichick made a plan to mitigate the Dolphin front seven and worse he ran them into the ground. By analyzing there own strengths the Dolphins could have predicted Belichick’s options. Knowing those options would have presented a different picture and more than likely a better game plan.
The Dolphin offense cranked it up and the Dolphin defense cranked it down. It won’t happen again. Mike Nolan is an excellent coach and he is probably kicking himself worse than any analyst possibly could. Look for the Dolphin defense to come out against the Texans like a pod of angry porpoise attacking a shark. The Patriots didn’t really expose a weakness because there are few teams with the depth and skill of the Patriot tight ends. The lesson learned is, aggressive beats passive, on the football field, every time.