This Sunday, millions of fans and party-goers will be fixated on their flat screens as the rising Los Angeles Rams take on the perennial AFC champion New England Patriots in the NFL's Super Bowl VIII. Many are tagging this matchup as a test of "Old vs. Young," referring to the age of both head coaches, Bill Belichick and Sean McVay, respectively. But if we step back and look at HOW each team will gameplan for their opponent, I'd argue this is a matchup of "Old vs. New" with a different twist.
The Patriots stumbled through the beginning of the season, losing two of their first four games to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions. While most NFL fans saw this as weakness and an opportunity to overcome the dominating Patriots this year, New England fans knew this was just par for the course and all part of Bill's plan.
If you happen to catch any early season Patriots games, you may notice that their offense doesn't exactly look like a well-oiled machine. New personnel is often a likely cause of this but there's another factor that comes into play. Bill Belichick is always thinking two steps ahead, while he claims in every press conference that he's only worried about the next opponent, and is continuously preparing his team for a path to the Super Bowl.
While most would think it's necessary to start the season with a defined plan that will get you to the next level, Bill takes a different approach. He knows you can't truly prepare your starters during preseason games so he utilizes the first few games to experiment with multiple schemes and figure out what works best with his personnel. Sounds pretty risky in a 16-game season, but the validation is in the results.
This year, the addition of Cordarelle Patterson opened up numerous opportunities for leveraging an athlete in space at various points of the game. So much, in fact, that the team assigned Cordarelle the nickname of "The Experiment." Does this mean Cordarelle became the focus of the offense? No, but putting him in position to prove his value early on in the season helped determine how he could be utilized when the matchup was right.
As we've seen in recent years, when the playoffs arrive and it's 'win or go home,' Bill pulls out his bag of tricks. The typical offensive and defensive schemes that we watched all season get tweaked and introduce new wrinkles that expose the Patriots' favorable matchups. Opposing teams then need to identify these changes and modify their gameplan accordingly, all within the confines of the game.
This is a key characteristic of a great coach: understand your opponent's personnel and how to maximize your personnel with matchups. So while most consider Belichick as the "Old" component in this year's Super Bowl matchup, I'd say he'll stay true to his form and bring a lot of new looks and schemes to Sunday's game.
And then there's that other team - those young guys out in Hollywood with their slick hairstyles and celebrity friends who have been tagged as the "new-school" team. Sean McVay has invigorated the Rams organization and brought a much-needed flair to a city that now has to choose between two teams. And while Sean and his roster rely on a lot of young talent, the wizard behind the screen may not be as young and agile as we'd expect.
The Rams defensive coordinator is Wade Phillips, a 40-yr veteran NFL coach who has held multiple positions in multiple organizations. Wade has established himslef as a defensive guru which has allowed him such a long coaching career at the highest level.
Some even claim he has the golden ticket to defeating the Patriots. As Defensive Coordinator of the Denver Broncos, Phillips managed to take out New England in the AFC Championship Games of 2013 and 2015. His blueprint involved a 4-man rush while changing between man and zone coverages throughout the game.
So should we expect to see the same thing from Wade this time around? According to Mr. Belichick himself, we should. He's not expecting to see many new looks from the old-school coach and why would he? If it's worked in the past and kept Phillips in the NFL coaching ring for 40 years, don't fix what ain't broken.
This Sunday between trips to the fridge or appetizer table, keep an eye on how these coaches attack their opponent. Then ask yourself, who's really bringing something new to the table and who's implementing old tactics. And when they take the field for the 2nd half, look at how these coaches change their game plan accordingly.
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