In case it wasn’t already crystal clear, Super Bowl LIII cemented Bill Belichick’s status as the best head coach in NFL history and the primary reason for the Patriots dynasty.
The Rams Offense was not quite the same unit down the stretch that it was earlier in the season. Still, this was a team that averaged almost 33 points per game in 2018. On Sunday, they had no answers for Belichick’s defensive approach. They scored just 3 points and became only the second team in Super Bowl history to not score a touchdown. Who was the other team? The 1971 Miami Dolphins. That was back before they invented the forward pass, though (kidding).
In all seriousness, this performance needs to be put in context. This Rams team had offensive guru Sean McVay, the NFL’s next coaching genius, calling plays. We don’t mean that sarcastically – McVay has led an unbelievable turnaround in Los Angeles and has a great career ahead of him. This game was also played in the most offensive-friendly era in NFL history. An era where it is basically illegal to breath on receivers or get too close to quarterbacks without their permission. Belichick still managed to smother L.A.’s offense in what was arguably the most impressive defensive performance in Super Bowl history.
Is 2018 Belichick’s Most Impressive Coaching Performance?
It just might be. The 2018 Patriots were probably the least talented team New England has had since 2009. Last offseason, Belichick either traded away or declined to re-sign several key players – Left tackle Nate Solder, running back Dion Lewis, wide receiver Danny Amendola, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and cornerback Malcolm Butler.
The Patriots lost a lot of dynamic parts to their offense as well as some key security blankets for Tom Brady. Not to mention, the 41-year old quarterback was not the same player he has been throughout most of his career. Rob Gronkowski was beat up and didn’t have the same explosiveness that makes him the special player he is. Julian Edelman missed 4 games due to a PED suspension after missing an entire year due to a knee injury. The uber-talented Josh Gordon came and went.
Ho hum, no big deal. The Patriots just reorganized and revamped around their new personnel. The running game became the cog that made this offense go. The Patriots finished the regular season as a top-5 rushing offense. In the playoffs, they ran the ball 114 times for 485 yards (4.25 yds per rush) and 9 touchdowns.
The defense held the Chargers (#8 scoring offense) to 7 points in the first half of their AFC Divisional Playoff matchup. The Chargers didn’t get anything more until the game was well out of reach. The Chiefs and Rams (the NFL’s top two scoring offenses) were held scoreless in the first half of the AFC Championship and Super Bowl respectively. The performance of the defense allowed the Patriots to stick with their running game for 60 minutes (plus one overtime) of all 3 postseason games.
One of the most impressive things about Bill Belichick is that his defense undergoes personnel turnover so often. Yet each season, he is able to add players that somehow are able to learn and execute a new opponent-specific game plan each week. This is not something you see anywhere else in the league. Belichick is not the beneficiary of an all-time talented unit. It’s not like he has one group of Hall-of-Fame players during a brief period of time, like the Ray Lewis/Ed Reed Ravens for instance, where he can do special things because of their unique talents. This season was no exception.
Over the last two decades, it hasn’t mattered what players the Patriots have lost to free agency, trades, or injuries. They have still been able to replace them easily and utilize different styles of play each season. They have still been able to utilize opponent-specific gameplans each week. They have still always been among the league’s best defensive teams.
During Belichick’s 19 seasons as Patriots Head Coach, his defenses have finished in the top 10 in scoring 15 times, more than any other team during that span. They have seven top-5 performances during that stretch, four top-2 performances, and two seasons as the NFL’s #1 scoring defense.
Belichick vs. the Best Offenses in History:
As we wrote a few years ago, Bill Belichick has faced every great offensive system and every great quarterback of the last 35 years. He has pretty much shut down all of them.
Joe Montana and the West-Coast Offense:
Joe Montana is probably the greatest big-game quarterback in NFL history. At very least, he is the closest thing to perfection in the big game that we have seen. He played in 4 Super Bowls, winning them all. He won 3 Super Bowl MVPs. The only game where he didn’t win the MVP was Super Bowl XXIII against the Bengals. All he did in that game was lead a 92-yard game-winning drive and throw the go-ahead touchdown pass with 34 seconds remaining. He was 23-36 for a then Super Bowl record 357 yards with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
In his 4 Super Bowl wins, Montana fired 11 touchdown passes without any interceptions. He rushed for an additional 2 touchdowns. For 15 years, he held the record for passing yards and rushing yards by a quarterback in the Super Bowl. Yet even he couldn’t crack the Belichick code.
Against the Giants in the playoffs with Belichick as the defensive coordinator, the greatest big-game quarterback of all time was 0-3. His high-powered offense scored just 19 points in 3 games. Montana completed 59.1% of his passes and threw just one touchdown. He also threw 3 interceptions and his passer rating was a paltry 68.6. The Giants beat him up physically in those games, knocking him out of two of them.
The 49ers’ West Coast Offense was revolutionary in the 80’s. San Francisco won 4 Super Bowls during the decade and had no problem cutting through just about every great defense like a warm knife through butter. That is, or course, except for Bill Belichick’s defense.
The Bills’ No-Huddle:
The Bills’ no-huddle offense of the early 90’s was nearly unstoppable, especially in its early stages. Heading into Super Bowl XXV, few thought the Giants would be able to even slow down a team that dropped 50+ against the Raiders a week earlier.
The Giants did, though. They emphasized punishing the Bills’ receivers so as to limit yards after the catch, which was what made Buffalo so dangerous. The Giants conceded the run, and often rushed the quarterback with just 2 or 3 defenders. In true Belichickian style, the Giants tried to take away what the opposing team did best, deploying an unconventional gameplan, and they came out on top.
The Greatest Show on Turf:
Fast-forward 11 years to 2001 and the next big thing on offense – the St. Louis Rams and the “Greatest Show on Turf” led by Kurt Warner. That offense scored 500+ points in 3 straight seasons and had already won a Super Bowl 2 years prior. According to most experts, Belichick’s 11-5 New England Patriots didn’t stand a chance against them in Super Bowl XXXVI.
However, once again, Belichick employed an unconventional tactic designed specifically for that week’s opponent. He had his defensive ends hit Marshall Faulk every time he tried to run a route out of the backfield. Faulk was a huge part of their aerial attack, and disrupting his routes threw off the timing of the passing game.
Additionally, the Patriots played a lot of snaps with 7 defensive backs. The point here was to get speed on the field. They wanted to close passing windows, limit yards after the catch, and pound St. Louis’ receivers. New England ended up generating a pick-6 and 17 points off of turnovers. They limited the greatest offense of that time to just 17 points.
Belichick vs. Peyton Manning:
Belichick’s success against Peyton Manning is well documented. The Colts had the best offense the Patriots faced during the first decade of the 2000’s. Manning finished his career 11-13 against Bill Belichick-coached teams with just an 85.3 passer rating, though. Manning actually fared better than most other quarterbacks (He’s 3-2 against Belichick in the playoffs and 3-1 in AFC Championship Games). But his offenses did not operate at anything near the same high level against Belichick as they did against other teams.
1983 Quarterback Class:
What about the big 3 quarterbacks from the 1983 NFL Draft – John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly? Dan Marino never played against Belichick in the playoffs. He did face him 9 times throughout his career, though – Once when Belichick was the defensive coordinator of the Giants, twice when he was the head coach of the Browns, and 6 times when he was the defensive coordinator of the Jets from 1997-99. Marino was 4-5 against Belichick with 10 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, and a meager 73.7 passer rating.
John Elway fared a bit better than Marino did. He was 1-1 against Belichick in the playoffs but completed less than 50% of his passes. He lost Super Bowl XXI to the Giants in 1986 but defeated the Jets in the 1998 AFC Championship Game. Elway was actually 5-3 in his career against Belichick (Most of those wins came when Belichick was with the Browns). However, his Broncos only averaged 18.8 points per game over those 8 contests.
Jim Kelly was knocked out of his first game against Belichick. In his only other game, Super Bowl XXV, the Bills were shockingly held to just 19 points, as mentioned above.
How about the Hall-of-Fame quarterback of the team of the 1990’s? Aikman finished his career 1-6 with an ugly 66.1 passer rating against Belichick.
Recent Super Bowl Performances:
The Patriots’ Super Bowls against the Seahawks and Falcons aren’t really remembered for the role New England’s defense played (Aside from Malcolm Butler’s interception). This is somewhat fair. Still, those games had Bill Belichick’s greatness written all over them.
The Patriots made adjustments mid-game in both contests and completely thwarted both offenses down the stretch. This enabled two of the most memorable comebacks in Super Bowl history. Seattle was shut out during the final 19 minutes and 54 seconds of Super Bowl XLIX. The Falcons Offense (which ranked 7th all time in points scored as of 2016) was held to 21 offensive points and shut out for the final 23 minutes and 31 seconds of regulation in Super Bowl LI.
The Patriots held the Rams scoreless over the final 16 minutes and 12 seconds of Super Bowl LIII. This means Belichick’s defense has not allowed a single point in the 4th quarter of New England’s last three Super Bowl victories.
The Patriots also generated key turnovers in the 4th quarter of each of those games.
One year after what was probably Belichick’s worst performance as Patriots Head Coach (Super Bowl LII vs. the Eagles), he put together arguably the best defensive game plan in Super Bowl History. What really can’t be argued is that Belichick has gone toe to toe with the best the NFL has ever had to offer and won the majority of the time. He has adapted to the game as it has evolved on both sides of the ball over the last three-and-a-half decades. He has stymied football’s greatest offensive inventions.
Belichick is the architect of the Patriots’ dynasty. He manages the salary cap and player turnover throughout his roster better than any personnel man in the league. He’s a defensive mastermind, but he also sets the direction of the offense and special teams. The Patriots always seem to have an advantage in each of the three phases of the game.
Belichick is the #1 reason for this team’s success. It seems like this should be pretty straight forward and clear at this point. If it wasn’t previously, Super Bowl LIII should help serve as a reminder.
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