In addition to pre-kick-off previews of selected games, these insights and opinions about a broad range of topics provide a unique look into everything from: NFL coaching strategies to an insider’s perspective about the most frequently asked questions.
The difference between a trained and an untrained team is evident at any level of competition.
A team that is trained displays great discipline. Disciplined teams commit very few penalties. Discipline means maintaining focus and controlling one’s passion. It is important that a team’s passion to perform well does not turn to fury when adversity strikes.
A team that is untrained will show fits of anger and frustration either on the field of competition or on the sideline. Pushing, punching, shoving opponents, slamming a helmet and screaming at a coach or teammate are some examples of an untrained team or player.
Well-trained teams execute the game plan and their specific plays with precision.
Offensive teams that are highly-trained rarely have observable instances of miscommunication or confusion. Quarterbacks frustrated at the lack of precise routes or pass protection breakdowns are rare with well-trained teams.
Defensive units that are well-trained will show a constant level of intensity and pursuit to the ball. They communicate efficiently and are scholarly in their knowledge of game situations. All well-trained teams are problem solvers on the sideline between series, not problem makers.
Another sign of well-trained teams is the speed in which they play before and after the snap. Highly-trained teams get in and out of the huddle quickly without confusion or lack of focus and rhythm. Defensive units get the plays in from the sideline quickly. On an occasional late play call, the defensive signal caller is educated enough in the game plan to handle it on the field.
Untrained teams will have players looking to call attention to themselves at any opportunity during, before, or after the play. No team is perfect, but the best trained teams have few demonstrations of selfishness. Outbursts of frustration at not getting the ball happens on offensive units that are untrained. Defensive players ignoring their assignment and doing their own technique or tactic is selfish and an indicator of an untrained defensive unit.
Whether a team is trained or untrained is directly related to leadership. Leadership starts with the head coach and filters down to the rest of the coaching staff. Poor leadership can occur at any level. Coaching DOES make a difference.
The teams that are the best trained perform at a high-level week in and week out. They always play to win but do not fear a loss. Trained teams show up for competition every game and are willing to give their best. Untrained teams play with passion one week and are nowhere to be found the next.
As you watch your favorite team this season, look for the signs of trained and untrained teams to get an idea of future championship teams and coaches!
Video is everywhere in professional football. All team activities in the off-season and season are now required to be videotaped so that each organization can be checked for its compliance with the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement).
Even before the CBA, some organizations had video cameras in each meeting room so every meeting could be taped. There were some valid reasons. The first reason for a video of all meetings was that a new player or coach could acclimate quickly. With access to the installation meetings to review, it would not hold up the rest of the team members and coaches. A new player or coach could readily adapt to the new language and gain a greater understanding of the organization's philosophy.
It may help a veteran player who simply wants to watch a particular meeting that is a little cloudy. It is also a good tool for the coaches themselves to do a quick self-assessment to see if they covered all the critical factors. Are enough different teaching methods being used to maintain interest? It is a tool for the coordinator or head coach to evaluate his staff, although I’m not a fan of that style. Overall, the video taping of all meetings can be an extremely valuable tool. It is there for coaches and players to use to better themselves at their craft. It is important to communicate to staff and team members; it is not a big brother spying technique.
As the advances in technology continue they will slowly make their way into the league as well. The GoPro camera is becoming a useful tool for players to study their technique from their own ground level visual perspective. I can also see in the future the use of drones for videotaping practice sessions. As in any profession the more efficient you can be, the more productive you will become and the new technology is helping football teams do just that.
After winning Super Bowl 51, New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick addressed the crowd at the parade and said: “No days off”.
I don’t know Bill on a personal level so there is no way I can come close to suggesting I know the true meaning of his statement. I have read numerous tweets and have seen some pictures of Coach Belichick relaxing on his boat or golfing, many accompanied by the caption “No Days Off”. Things can be misunderstood, taken out of context, or simply ridiculed out of contempt for another’s success. It is difficult to argue against Bill Belichick being the best head football coach the NFL has ever had.
For anyone who finds it difficult to understand what exactly is meant by “No days off” I’m going to offer a few possibilities.
In my years as a defensive coordinator in the NFL I would preach to the players to truly reach their potential they must have a dedication amounting to an obsession. When you have a day off you may not be going to the training complex but football is never far from your mind. Some of the best of my football ideas came when I was off or technically not working.
I could be relaxing on a boat, at the beach, on the golf course or working out. I have had some brainstorms regarding my job in every one of those situations. When you have a passion for what you do it is never far from your immediate thought and there are times when ideas pop into your mind with no conscious thought.
If truthful, many pros admit there have been days or at least a day at work when they took the day off. Meaning they didn’t give that workday the focus, attention to detail, effort and enthusiasm necessary to do their job well. If every team member went to work on work days with the proper training mentality, there would be many great teams.
It is possible that “No Days Off” means do your job every time you go to work. He might have been referring to himself only as the Head Coach. The Head Coach of an NFL organization, even when not in the office, is working and truly has “No Days Off.”
There is one other possibility…and that is only a couple days after the greatest Super Bowl comeback victory ever, he might have done something uncharacteristic and was being humorous!
The youngest and only boy, Joe had five sisters and went to a public high school on the southside of Pittsburgh, PA in 1943 wartime. They were second generation Polish immigrants. A poor, hardworking family, their dad toiled in one of the many steel mills for which the city was known in those gray, soot-filled days.
South High was both an academic and vocational high school that was in its early years. Joe was one of the new students. At that time, the high school had no athletic facilities of its own. The football team would travel by “streetcar” as it was called in Pittsburgh, to the athletic fields for a trolley fee of 10 cents. The players carried their equipment on the trolley and dressed at the field. The uniforms were poor quality and their relatively new football team had yet to win a game. They carried the uniforms home to be laundered when necessary.
Joe’s uniform never made it home. With an overprotective mom of her only son, Joe played football as the phantom of the family. He kept his playing a secret. All of his sisters were married and he knew his mom who had only a limited grasp of English would not tolerate him playing a collision game she surely didn’t understand. Joe would have his uniform cleaned by his brother-in-law and his second oldest sister. They were the only family members who ever knew Joe played football.
Since Joe’s mom worked nights and slept in the daytime she never caught on to her late-arriving son. He would have to wait for the uniform to be cleaned and then walk the extra two miles home.
Joe practiced and played anonymously. His parents never saw a football game. Heck, they never even knew he played. Being part of a team, the action was the elixir of his persistence in anonymity. No praise, no pats on the back and no one at home to lift his spirits when things weren’t going well on the field.
Many players entering their senior season opted out of school and enlisted to join the war effort. In Joe’s junior year, the quarterback was injured and with few players available he was called into action. He had never played QB, but coming off the bench Joe led his team to their only win of the season. He even scored the winning touchdown and kicked the extra point.
Joe would suffer in silence the aches and pains of practice and the games to keep his football secret. Even the thrill of victory became a burden of silence at home. The motivation was simply playing the game itself. Joe was a competitor with a strong will to win. Wins were scarce, but he was beyond his years in understanding they weren’t losses, as much as lessons to help in the next victory.
Always upbeat, Joe was an optimistic and charismatic presence on the field. He wasn’t vocal, but would be considered a quiet leader. He played with no training beyond what he was blessed with by God. He picked up the game and its strategies easily.
Joe is an example of someone playing truly for the love of the game. I’m sure there are many similar stories, not only in football but other sports as well.
I can relate to Joe and feel the same connection to the game of football. It must be in the blood because Joe was my Dad. He passed away April 15, 2011. Wish you were here! Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!
Most NFL head coaches do not call plays. That duty is delegated to the offensive and defensive coordinators. The head coach is able to have a much better grasp of the game management scenarios when he is not a play caller. He can be much more aware of decisions to be made regarding penalties, field goals or punts, going for the first down or fourth down, timeout utilization, two minute, and a much better awareness of the overall effectiveness of both the offense and defense and special teams.
Most head coaches are promoted to a head coaching position after spending years as an offensive or defensive coordinator. They were most certainly play callers in their coordinator's role. They likely had great success which catapulted them into the position of head coach.
Game Day is the most exciting, exhilarating, rewarding and fun part of coaching. This is especially true if you are the play caller. It is a human chess match between you and the opposing play caller.
You as the play caller have the most influence on the game’s outcome next to the players on the field themselves. That is what makes the game so stressful and thrilling at the same time. It is also the reason some head coaches continue to call plays. Why do some head coaches call plays? Because it's FUN!
Emotions run high in the game of football. It is a game where one team is pitted against another in a battle of real estate. It is not only a contact sport but a game of collision.
Once you step on the field there is no place to hide. It is a game of superiority. Each team striving to display dominance over the other.
Once you cross the line and onto the field of competition you must be all in. You cannot play well unless you are completely committed. There's only one speed and that is full speed. Playing any less than full speed is dangerous to yourself and your teammates.
The Most Successful on the Football Field are Passionate About the Game
Passion is defined as an intense desire or enthusiasm for something, a strong and barely controllable emotion. Passion and enthusiasm for a good cause are beneficial to achieving your goal and reaching your destination. Football also requires a tremendous amount of focus to diagnose fast-moving parts and instantly react to fit properly into the scheme and strategy of the play called.
Because of the physical and violent nature of the game, it's important to be disciplined mentally, physically, and emotionally.
When Adversity Strikes or Your Opponent is Getting the Better of You, it is Important Passion Doesn't Turn into Fury
Fury is defined as an intense rage, wild and violent anger. Passion is a barely controllable emotion and without discipline can switch in an instant to fury. Fury does not belong in the game. Any player not able to control his passion will hinder his performance and the team’s.
All coaches love players who are passionate about the game. Players who go from passion to fury on the field will become a distraction and ultimately cost their team games. Football is a game of passion. The book of Revelation States in 3:15 - “It is better to be fiery hot or icy cold because if you are lukewarm I will spit you out.”
Coaching and teaching in today's environment can present a very real challenge. I've always believed coaching is teaching. I was fortunate to be trained by coaches who felt the same. Organization was paramount to preparing your lesson plan or practice plan for each day. Every minute was mapped out in detail. Every drill, technique, and play was presented in a logical progression. The meetings with players were prepared just as diligently.
Today's challenge for educators and in some cases coaches, is the gradual rise in the attitude that students don't fail -- teachers fail the students.
I'm sure in any profession there are those who do not put the effort, planning, and passion into their work and ultimately do fail their students or players. More often than not, in today's world of participation trophies, it is used merely as an excuse for the student or player.
The teacher-student or coach-player relationship is a two-way street. Both parties must put forth their best effort to succeed.
One of my favorite quotes regarding coaching is: “I can teach you, but I can't learn you.”
A coach or teacher can present material in an exciting, creative, and easy-to-understand way but cannot learn for the student or player.
Dedicated coaches and players put in one-on-one time for students seeking assistance for concepts they may not grasp readily. It is proven that the best method to learn is to see it, here it, write it, and speak it regarding subject material and then you can own it.
As a coach, I've always taken great pride watching my players or unit improve and produce to the best of their ability. In my teaching, I also took pride in my players’ ability and desire to learn. I took it as a challenge if a player needed extra tutoring. People learn in different ways. Often a player needed the material presented in a different fashion or needed the subject matter communicated a little differently than in the group environment.
When leadership is honest and objective in evaluating coaches or teachers they will acknowledge that there are times when a player or student has reached his competency level.
Not that a player or student won't be able to learn, but may not be able to learn at the pace or speed necessary to produce at that level of their profession.
In my NFL experience, it was often stated that mental errors by players were on the coaches. When head coaches hire great teachers, it should also be understood there may be some players who just can't pick up the material for the speed, volume and stress necessary for useful application on the battlefield. There are rare times a player is so talented the leader may be willing to adjust his game plan because of that limitation.
It is very difficult to justify an adjustment in a philosophy or playbook for one player.
- If there are more players or students who can't seem to grasp the playbook then it should be considered the playbook is too complicated for the speed of the game.
- If it is only one position that has many challenges then the coach or leader should be considered as one of the possible reasons.
Leadership should make all of those assessments privately. There have been organizations where the players were told that mental errors were coaching. I wasn't a fan of that presentation technique because it gave any player or student an immediate excuse to blame others.
Great coaches, teachers, and leaders inspire their team to work with coaches to learn the game plan.
My latest trip took me to Knoxville and the University of Tennessee Spring Practice.
Head Coach Butch Jones was impressive with a masterful plan of situational football. He will have plenty of video for teaching and future reminders. He had coaching points for almost every position on offense and defense. He must have eyes in the back of his head! It was evident the team and staff responds to his leadership.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop leads the defense. I was also impressed by his strategies and tactics and how well they are taught by his coaches.
Additionally, I couldn't help but notice the defensive line under the tutelage of Brady Hoke. He is passionate, intense, demanding and has an attention to detail that will pay off in the defensive line’s performance.
I believe the Tennessee Vols will be an exciting team to watch!
Conditioning is a major part of all sports. Vince Lombardi said: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
Training your body and mind for the competition you will face is the best way to combat fatigue.
In the sports world, this requires a tremendous amount of physical training. Strength training for the muscles, cardiovascular training for the heart and lungs -- those combine to train our mental toughness.
Every sport has a specific type of physical conditioning.
Football is a series of short all-out bursts of activity followed by a short rest interval and repeated over a 3- to 4-hour period of time. It requires speed and power combined with grace and a strength of will pitting one man versus another or one team versus another.
Basketball on the other hand is a contest of constant action that bounces between sprints and slower defined movements as the players execute the designated pattern of movement directed by the game plan.
Each sport will have its own unique pattern of activity for which your training regimen must be customized.
There are countless ways to train one's body for the power and speed of football. Running hills is a great way to train for speed and power. Hill running is much more demanding than running a flat distance. Rather than run ten 40-yard sprints, some coaches have their football players run ten 40-yard sprints uphill. It is intense and grueling and will test your will and desire to pay the price necessary to accomplish your goal.
There are many times you wonder if it is worth it. For some players, it's the hills that develop the heart. In other players, it's the heart that inspires one to run hills.
It's the heart and hill that combined to build a confidence and mental toughness necessary to win a championship.
The New England Patriots ran hills preparing for Superbowl 51. It wasn't just the hills that prepared them, but the hills and the heart.
Whether it's the hills that inspire the heart or the heart that inspires the hills, it is paying the price in the preparation process that determines who receives the prize.
I had the pleasure of watching practice on Monday April 3rd. I was extremely impressed with the organization and the amount of details being coached across the board: offense, defense, and special teams. I spent most of the time concentrating on the defense.
Randy Shannon, the Defensive Coordinator, is an outstanding coach. He coached, corrected, praised, educated, and motivated on every play and drill. Energetic and enthusiastic, he and his entire staff paid close attention to the smallest details.
Coach Mac showed a side not often seen, with a fiery and passionate talk to the team on the field after practice. He wanted to make sure the players understood that just showing up on the practice field doesn't mean you are progressing. You must put in the purpose-driven daily training to reach the full potential as an individual and as a team.
"Presume not that I am the thing I was." - Shakespeare
The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA (players’ union) has had some positive impacts.
On the other hand, some of the rules have had some negative results as well. Once a team ends its season there is a no contact period with players until the 3rd week of April or the first week of April if your team has hired a new coach.
For some players, that will mean three months of no contact. This non-contact rule, which includes any form of communication, was the players’ idea. At the time, it seemed like an idea that had sound reasoning.
As with many things, you can gain a better perspective over time.
NFLPA Non-Contact Period
Impact on Veteran Players
Not considered detrimental to the seasoned veteran who has solidified his roster spot and role on the team. These are the players who form the nucleus of the team. (We are talking about 6-10 players on each team.)
They have reached a high level of success and established themselves as the team’s stars.
- In their case, three months to take needed time off to heal and re-energize is important.
- It is also beneficial because most of these players have the finances to hire a personal trainer who knows the specific needs of the player.
- It can be strength, flexibility, and conditioning in nature or relate to his specific positional techniques.
- This is a positive outcome of the rule.
Impact on Rookies
The players who are not established as proven players are being hindered in their desire to improve their skill set.
- This is a three-month period they could voluntarily work with their coaches on the understanding, processing and digesting the playbook.
- It is a time also to view video to grow in understanding concepts and opponents’ tendencies.
- They could work with coaches on exercising, educating and refining specific actions necessary for their position.
To help all the players who want to spend time at the facility improving, it might be a good idea to compromise and allow anyone with four years or less of accrued seasons, the opportunity to train with their team.
This would benefit the majority of the players, not just the few.
In professional football, acquiring players through the NFL Draft or signing a player through free agency are the two dominant ways of acquiring talent for your team.
My journey in professional football allowed me to experience various evaluation techniques and philosophies.
- The first thing the organization must determine: Is your team relatively close to championship level talent or do you have a long way to go?
This determination cannot be done lightly. Quality or quantity is the question. If it is determined your team is close, that could dictate a path of acquiring only a few game-changing or high quality acquisitions that could bring your team to a championship level.
This is sometimes a very risky path because those types of players required a high-dollar and high-profile commitment. When their production matches the financial commitment, it is a positive experience for the team and organization.
- Then there are a couple of negative ramifications if these high-dollar and high-profile commitment players do not perform at an elite level.
The first is the simple fact that the expectation level of your team is the championship and anything less means your commitment to those few players was a failure.
The other negative could impact the chemistry of the locker room. When a newly acquired player is signed as one of the highest paid players on your team, if they do not produce to match their pay it creates friction in the locker room.
If the evaluation of your own talent points to many weaknesses, the philosophy to acquire talent would lean to quantity. Requiring as many draft picks as possible and possibly unloading high-priced team members as you build for the near future.
- Regardless of the quality or quantity path, there is an evaluation process that takes place to identify the players or candidates your organization will target.
The initial stages of evaluating talent is similar in all organizations:
The personnel department and its team of scouts evaluate draft eligible players in their area and give them a grade.
The position coaches are given a list by the personnel department of players that are draft-worthy of their position and they will give those players a grade. This first level process is common.
It is from here I’ve seen the techniques branch off in many directions.
- The one technique that proved extremely effective was having the personnel grade, rate, and list each player by position. So the Quarterbacks for example were graded and then listed from best to worst. Each position was ranked in that manner, the grades were determined by watching game video of each player. A minimum of 4 games was necessary to assign a grade.
- The more game video or data, the closer you were to gaining a clear picture of the player’s talent. Once the coaches finished their grading and ranking each position, the coach would be called to meet with the GM, Head Coach, and scouting department.
- The coach would present his ranking and a brief description of the player’s strengths and weaknesses. When the coach finished his presentation, the personnel department’s rankings were revealed.
- Any major discrepancies would then be evaluated in a case by case fashion. This was done by watching the player’s best games together and then the GM would adjust the ranking if he felt it was necessary. The personnel department’s ranking served as the baseline.
The Process of Elimination
Their particular system also had a unique way of eliminating some players:
- Through thorough discussions with the coaches on the most important characteristics of their position based on height, weight, and speed were determined.
- Any player not satisfying that minimal and maximum parameter would not make the draft board.
From my standpoint, this was the best and most successful of all the systems I experienced.
The minimum and maximum parameter does not imply that all players who didn’t fit that category couldn’t make a team.
The GM believed that anyone not fitting the parameters should be tried out by another team and let them assume the risk. If the player proves himself on another team, they could still be acquired in free agency at some point.
There are other evaluation methods that were used that I will discuss in future posts. I chose this format because it proved to be the most effective in the percentage of hits on talent.
I’ve been a defensive coach my whole career and am a bit jealous of the offense for several reasons.
The first is how the rules and rule changes are designed for basically two reasons as the game of professional football evolves.
The number one reason is for the safety of the players.
Another reason is to insure the scoring average of the game either increases or maintains because most fans enjoy a higher scoring game than a defensive masterpiece. This of course gives the offense the advantage.
The second reason is that the offense dictates the defense by what personnel they decide to put on the field. Defensive tactics usually, but not always, react to what the offense puts on the field. The offensive play caller can go from play to play as quickly and effectively as he wishes and dictate the action.
An offensive coordinator who calls plays may have a game day call sheet of 100 plays. If it weren’t for down and distance and field position, close his eyes and point to his chart and make a call. There is a tremendous amount of time and study that goes into the call list. It is based on what is anticipated of the defense by endlessly studying video of the opponent.
My main point is the offense is proactive in nature and the defense reactive in nature.
That is why I, as a defensive play caller, always liked an aggressive, pressure-oriented scheme because I always felt it could give the defense the feeling they were the one dictating the action.
Often the bottom line -- or in the coaching world, wins and losses -- don't tell the whole story. Coaching staff changes are made by head coaches and in increasingly faster fashion. When results aren't immediately evident someone is going to pay the price.
As these changes are becoming more and more common it is very easy for these quickdraw changes to become the norm. The norm doesn't make it right. It also makes future leaders and head coaches more callous and even cavalier in executing the staff changes. At times the changes do provide a spark to a team and lead to some short-lived success. Owners are also becoming less patient with head coaches.
The new age of technology and video games can create an unrealistic mentality.
Players can be thought of like a video game player controlled by the computer’s artificial intelligence.
Players in real life cannot be operated by someone else’s intelligence and ability. Once the human element is removed from the decision-making it is too easy to place blame and make changes without fully contemplating the consequences to those affected by the decision.
There have been few if any instances I can remember of the leaders who made a change that didn’t provide desired results, to be held accountable in any way. Most often they were applauded for making tough decisions. When ample time is given with no progress there are times change is necessary. Ample time can be debated and is ultimately decided by leadership.
I’d like to relate a story that may provide food for thought for head coaches, future head coaches, and leaders.
A dad and his three sons made a trip to the batting cages to get ready for the upcoming baseball season. The two older boys (ages 8 and 15) took turns with the machine making consistently good contact. They were both excited and confident for practice to begin.
The youngest son took his turn. With 15 pitches per token, he took 15 pitches and 15 whiffs. The seven-year-old did not even come close. As you would expect of a seven-year-old who watched his brothers hit every pitch the tears flowed. “Let me try again” was his next response. Another token and another 15 whiffs. More tears, more whiffs and more tokens. After four rounds the dad was almost in tears like the 7-year-old suffering through each whiff. The dad almost couldn't bear the suffering of watching the boy fail again and again. One more round and again all whiffs. Not even a foul ball. Zero contact. The youngest screamed, “The ball is invisible!”.
The next evening the two oldest boys wanted another trip to the batting cages and the youngest reluctantly went along. After watching his brothers for a few rounds he decided to give it another try. “Oh no” the dad thought. Here goes another tear-filled night of swinging at the invisible pitches. In the cage he goes, readies himself and the bat, here comes the first pitch and ‘BAM’ contact. A well struck line drive right up the middle. Then 14 more pitches and not one single whiff. High fives all around. What joy on his face!
I should know, I was there because it was me and my three sons. The lesson I learned was that although I didn't see progress with whiff after whiff, progress was being made.
Slowly his eyes were being trained. His timing was getting better even though there were no visible signs. His determination and persistence was getting stronger through the tears. Then all of a sudden, results became evident.
Sometimes the bottom line doesn’t tell the whole story. Progress is being made even though it is not seen.
Atlanta’s defense rose to dominate the Patriots’ offense in the first half. Their speed, explosiveness, aggression, and passion for the game was evident throughout. They were able to create pressure with 4-man rushes and match-up versus New England’s receivers man-to-man. Their speed and athletic ability also showed up as Atlanta’s defenders made tackles time after time in the open field.
Brady was harassed enough, he wasn’t himself. He hurried throws and missed open throws. The running game was stuffed. Atlanta’s defense was a completely different unit in the last quarter of the season and played stellar in the post-season. Dan Quinn and his staff did a tremendous job preparing their defense.
The New England Patriots’ defense was highly rated but had shown times of weakness in their rush defense. Statistically they looked good, but have had difficulty on the perimeter vs speed and Atlanta exploited it. The Falcons forced the Patriots to defend the width of the field which was too much for the Patriots early in the game versus the Falcons’ speed.
Atlanta’s offense as expected, made plays running and throwing versus the vulnerable first half Patriots’ defense. Atlanta’s offense was the story leading up to the Super Bowl but the Defense dominated the first half of this Super Bowl.
The Second Half
The second half started similar but the Patriots’ defense started to strengthen on the edges and played more physical. Their pass rush found its way.
The turning point in the second half was the sack fumble on Matt Ryan.
Tom Brady found a comfort zone in the pocket and found his rhythm and proceeded to pick apart the tired Falcons’ defense. They utilized RB James White as a go-to player before working his throws downfield.
Brady started making throws with pinpoint accuracy. Brady found time in the pocket as the two Falcon Defensive Tackles had lost some push.
Bill Belichick and his staff made adjustments throughout the game and those slowly started paying off as the game wore on. They wore out the smaller Falcons’ defense and shut down the high-flying offense.
Tom Brady solidified his spot as the best QB of all time and Bill Belichick, the greatest coach of all time! Bear Bryant once said, “The game is 60 minutes but lasts a lifetime.”
Super Bowl 51 will be a match-up of the under-rated talent, speed, and youth of the Atlanta Falcons, versus the experienced, seasoned, and consistent New England Patriots.
On the surface, it may not be the glamorous match of America’s teams, but both teams have dominated on the field of play in the post season to earn their trip to the Super Bowl.
This game should be a closely fought contest. Contrary to the popular belief, if there is a lopsided victory, it will be the Atlanta Falcons who take a big lead.
Atlanta has the best and most explosive offense in the league with speed and versatility. The defense has been criticized for its inconsistency but has played its best in the post season.
They’re not big, but play very hard and give tremendous effort with a passion that is undeniable. They have clean run fits and have played more aggressive coverage as the year has worn on. They will play man-on-man and get body-on-body making for tight windows for opposing QBs. They are built much like Seattle, as you would expect. Atlanta’s defense is not as big, but explosive up front. They come off the ball with quickness and power and will disrupt the opponents with penetration.
New England’s offense behind the game plans of Josh McDaniel and the QB play of Tom Brady has found a way to exploit the weaknesses of their opponents. It all starts with the offensive line and their ability to keep Brady confident in the pocket. They are capable of running the ball with Blount. He will power ahead for short runs and wear down smaller opponents and get the long run as the game wears on. They alternate White and Lewis for quickness, speed and route running.
Offense vs. Defense
The best view of the Patriots’ offense versus Atlanta’s defense is the regular season game between the Patriots and Seahawks. Both teams will dissect that game in preparing for the Super Bowl.
If that game is any indication, Atlanta will make Brady uncomfortable. He will make his share of plays, but they will not come easy and it will be difficult to sustain drives.
The running game must be effective to give Brady an opportunity for play action passes and downfield throws. Atlanta can play with a one-dimensional offense in the game, but I don’t think New England can.
In order to keep up with the Falcons’ offense, Josh McDaniel will need his best game plan of the year and Tom Brady will have to secure his place as the best QB to ever play the game.
The New England defense is the best in NFL. They are #1 is scoring defense which is the real measure of success. Keeping points off the board gives your team the best opportunity to win games and the Patriots are all about Team and winning. This philosophy is clearly spelled out by Head Coach Bill Belichick.
There are a number of reasons I give an edge to the Atlanta Falcons’ #1 scoring offense over the #1 scoring defense.
- New England has shown a willingness to play a single high safety to stop the run this year versus previous years. Their run defense is solid inside but can be exposed outside the tackles.
- The Falcons and their zone running scheme will make the Patriots defend the width of the field rather than punch a hole straight ahead, versus the Patriots’ two big defensive tackles.
- The exceptional speed of the Falcons at all positions (especially the RBs and offensive line) is going to be a challenge for the Patriots’ Defense.
Much of the talk regarding the Falcons’ offense has been centered around Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the passing game. I believe Atlanta’s running game will be the difference. The Patriots will not be able to consistently cover both Freeman and Coleman. With an effective run game, the play action passes will take chunks of big yards from the Patriot’s Defense.
Kyle Shanahan will not allow Matt Patricia to zero in on the run or pass which will give the Falcon’s the full arsenal of offense. Shanahan uses the run game in spurts and you’re never sure when that will be.
Let’s assume the Patriot’s brain trust moves the front and commits the extra man in the box and controls the run game. A one-dimensional Falcons’ offense will still pose many issues for the Patriots. The Patriots’ base 4-man rush to takes time to develop. They are not explosive on the edges to apply quick pressure. They are most effective running line stunts which take time.
If the Patriots feature zone coverage, Matt Ryan will have time to pick it apart. The Patriots’ underneath zone coverage plays very short. They will be exposed behind the linebackers for big gains.
The solution is man coverage giving the rush more time to develop.The downside of man coverage is the match up versus the speed of the RBs who are excellent route runners and receivers.
All things considered, man-to-man with a sprinkle of their 3-man rush zone schemes will give them the best chance.
The Patriots have also shown a vulnerability in man coverage to 3-man bunches and 2-man stack formations. They consistently fail to sort it out or lose leverage for easy inside completions. Atlanta can win with explosive plays in those formations. Atlanta’s WR quick screens are an easy answer to any pressure from New England.
The Falcons have one other option if they want to take advantage of their speed and New England’s lack of a dominant rush, and that is their empty set package. The empty package will again force the Patriots to defend the width of the field where the Falcons will find the best match up and win that battle in the open spaces.
Overall, the Atlanta Falcons’ Offense Has a Substantial Edge Over the New England Patriots’ Defense
The one way the Patriots have to disrupt Atlanta’s high-powered offense is to continue to play terrific Red Zone defense and force field goals.
If the Patriots win this Super Bowl it will be because Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Patricia did their best-ever coaching job. Belichick is the best NFL Head Coach in history and with a win in this Super Bowl it would solidify that opinion.
Many people will be critical of San Francisco 49ers hire of John Lynch as GM – as he has no previous experience in the front office.
It is also surprising they inked him to a six-year deal. The Niners did a good job though, of keeping it under wraps until they made the hire.
Regardless of the experience factor, I believe it will be a terrific move. It's a bold move, but one they are completely sold on given the fact he's getting a six-year deal.
Continuity in the front office and coaching staff is important to building a championship organization. He and Kyle Shanahan will make a great pair and work well together.
In certain circumstances, experience in a specific role might be overblown.
I had the opportunity and pleasure of coaching John Lynch in Denver. He is intelligent, relentless, competitive, hard-working, passionate about anything football, and a great communicator. He is also a great person who can compete and win without caring who receives the credit. He is the ultimate team member.
John’s experience comes from a lifetime of playing and being around the game from different perspectives. He knows firsthand what it takes to win a championship. He played 15 years at a Hall of Fame level.
I’ve witnessed his attention to detail and absolute love of studying the game from all angles. He is extremely organized and thoughtful and not afraid to step out of the box.
John has an eye for talent and will surround himself with talented people in the front office. The roster needs a major upgrade and it will take time to do so. There are certainly questions, but I believe this will soon be considered a brilliant move!
Somewhere, the idea of competitive sports has received the label of being a bad thing; especially for our youth. That attitude also filters into other areas of our society.
Philosophically, we have moved from the field of competition to participation awards.
I've watched my children as often as I could work their way through the old world competitive youth sports programs. I’ve seen them go through good teams, poor teams, great coaches, good coaches not so good coaches.
I will say all the coaches of youth sports should be commended for sacrificing their time to work with our kids. Every coach I’m sure has the intentions of helping our children find success and enjoy the field of competition. I think that is where we lose track. The real world is competitive. Even in the most ideal of circumstances the world will be globally competitive.
Rather than shelter our youth from the competitive aspect of society we should teach our young ones to embrace it.
I've been an NFL coach for over 20 years and I am ecstatic to see the coaching world with the likes of Pete Carroll who coaches in an enthusiastic, positive, energetic fashion that teaches men to embrace competition.
His athletes learn to enjoy competition and the challenges set before them. It is the competition itself that becomes the attraction. Winning or losing is the measuring stick of competition.
Enjoy winning because it is difficult to do if you are striving to become the best. If it is not enjoyable to win then there is no longer the passion to win. When the team wins it’s important everybody wins. That is the goal. When we lose, everybody has a hand in the loss. When you don't win it is important to treat that setback as a lesson. Learn from the experience and correct the things you can and look forward to the next challenge.
Finally, wins and losses decide the competition. Wins and losses do not define us.
Doing the best with what we have been given is what will define our character.
Let us also be reminded that competition does exist within the team. It is important that team members understand the team always comes first. Decisions made are for the best interests of the team. When the team wins all win. Each team member contributes his or her share to the common goal.
Talent, experience, and opportunity are some reasons the amount of each one's contribution to the team may differ. Each team member is important to reaching the goal. There are times based on the overall strategy to accomplish the goal that one team member's area of expertise may be highlighted over others.
Being a member of a team means respecting the chain of command and putting the teams goal’s ahead of any individual goals. Leaders understand how to develop a competitive edge by maintaining a team mentality in the world of wins and losses. Have a passion for good and do good with a passion.
The coaching profession is a demanding, stressful, grueling grind of long hours, sometimes tedious work, and little free time. Professional coaches will be working 7 days a week about 16 hours a day from August until February. Because it requires such a commitment, most coaches are extremely passionate about their work and really love what they do.
In my case, I loved the teaching aspect in the classroom and on the field. It was such a pleasure to see the players improve and have success. I also have a curious side and with all the resources available to study tactics and strategy, I loved when I had a chance to use the creative part of my brain.
When the season ended and after a short vacation, the off-season doesn’t offer much more of a break. Expect to make it home for dinner and have some free weekends, but as the pressure of winning increases so do the hours. Professional coaches are paid very well and much is expected of them. Arriving at the office before 5:30am year-round is not out of the ordinary.
Head Coaches expect nothing but an obsession with your job and nothing but tunnel vision and razor sharp focus on football and every aspect of it. There are no sick days, doctors’ appointments, picking your kids up from school, meeting your wife for lunch or even admission of a hobby outside of coaching football.
Passion for the game and your job is necessary, but all of us need to coach the brain in areas other than Xs and Os at times to stay mentally and emotionally healthy. Most coaches are very bright and need to stimulate the intellect so they don’t get stale.
A hobby is not a bad thing even if it is a quick workout or 30 minutes or switching gears to read an article on something other than football. We just don’t want to admit it for fear we be accused of lacking the commitment.
The holiday season from Thanksgiving through the New Year can be a wonderful time with the family. Christmas for young children is magical and such a joy to watch. It is also a great time of year to renew our faith and be thankful for our blessings.
For those whose chosen career is coaching football, the holiday season is much different. The stress can dampen the holiday spirit. Some coaches are getting ready for a big game and others are worried about keeping their jobs. Coaches working for teams that didn’t meet expectations or coaches whose individual unit did not reach the expectation level of the head coach are worried about the next paycheck.
Whether you are a young coaching family or veteran coaching family it takes a toll. I remember all too well my younger coaching days when my future paycheck was in question. Both my wife and I would do our best to keep our spirits up around our 4 young children. No matter how hard we tried there were times the stress would break through the hard exterior we had built. My faith and the support of my wife and family is what helped me through the dark times.
Isaiah 60:2 “…Darkness covers the earth and total darkness the peoples; but the Lord will shine over you..”
The head coach being let go is what the media emphasizes. The head coach is the celebrity and most recognizable by the public so the media attention is expected. The assistant coaches are rarely mentioned but most affected. They don’t have the financial security of most head coaches and will have a much more difficult time finding a new employer. Assistant coach changes are simply a news flash at best on the ticker tape. The coaching world is not for anyone seeking job security. The holiday season or should I say the “firing season” is not a time relished by many football coaches.
I have always been inspired when I hear athletes going through a rough patch maintaining their optimism and persistence proclaiming that God has a plan. I applaud such belief, but worry some people may think that future is predetermined by God’s plan. God is all knowing. All knowing is not all causing. We will be defined by our own choices. Being strong in faith will give us confidence in our choices. By faith we know God will not forsake us.
I love the footprints in the sand poem:
…But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have been only one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most you have not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints is when I carried you.” ~ Mary Stevenson
There will be many changes this year as in any year. Some will be well publicized head coaching changes and other assistant coach changes. Some changes are necessary. Some changes are not necessary but rationalized by the decision makers to be the best for the organization.
Only the one deciding the fates of the coaches actually knows which of the two it is. Often the fans and media applaud the firing. The heads must roll approach keeps criticism at bay for a short time.
After enjoying the holiday season and welcoming in the new year, please keep the coaches in your prayers as they battle through the difficult time of the firing and hiring season.
The best players always play, eventually. Sometimes there may be a player on the sideline who is a better player at the moment than the player who is a starter and on the field. This can be the case for a number of reasons. The most common reason is that a team or organization signs a free agent for big money or drafts a player very high in the 1st round and has a large financial commitment. That organization, because of its financial commitment, is going to give the player every opportunity to earn that money invested in him, even if in the short term there may be a player watching from the sideline who would perform better.
When organizations do this, they are assuming the more talented player will catch up and easily surpass the player he is replacing. In most instances that is the case, but not always and that is why you hear the term “bust” being thrown around. When the financial commitment or draft status of a player doesn’t match his performance level is when you have a bust.
The GM or Head Coach is usually the person deciding how much time you give a player to prove himself before you move on and put the best player on the field. Depending on the organization’s chain of command, there can sometimes be a difference of opinion on who is the best player. When there is a GM in charge of personnel and the head coach in charge of football, there can be times they are not in complete agreement. Evaluation is subjective. It is therefore natural there will be differences of opinion.
Much like the previous scenario, the real decision is how much patience do you have to wait for the player to produce? If there is internal friction within an organization it is mostly because there is a difference of opinion about a number of items. Individual talent and where to focus your resources in acquiring the talent to build the team are the biggest points of contention.
There have been occasions in my experience where anyone who was drafted from round 1-3 was automatically a starter and the 4th rounder you could count on as making the team.
Coaches like the players who give them the best chances to win immediately and who make few mental errors. At times the personnel department likes the new talent or the players who give the best chance to win in the future. There will always be some differences of opinion, but the people who can work through them with open and honest communication to get the best players on the field will find the most success.
Over my 20 years in the NFL, a lot has changed. Free Agency was originated my second year in the league while I was coaching for the Chicago Bears. There has been between 20 or 30 rule changes. Most of the rule changes have benefited the offense. Offenses have become pass oriented and defenses have become more versatile and sophisticated. Defense has become more specialized as well.
Many teams have built new stadiums to make the venue more fan friendly. Reality shows have found popularity. Players’ and coaches’ salaries have improved dramatically. Games can be accessed now almost anywhere with a mobile device.
Today, players are better trained and are very proficient in this age of social media. Players are much more informed about health risks and the fact professional football will last only a short time and there’s a small window of opportunity for top earning power.
Most players now have to consider what they will do when the window of opportunity closes. They must prepare for a career after playing. Coaches must be prepared to find a new line of work as well since patience to win is a novelty. The popularity of sports on television or on your iPad or computer has never been higher. There are Pre-Game shows, Post-Game Shows, and everything in-between.
All of these things contribute to players and coaches trying to promote their own brand. Football is a team game and no one is bigger than the game. Some players and coaches see the game as a way to promote themselves and their own brand. That is one of the reasons you see so much celebration or anything that will bring media attention to themselves. To these players, positive or negative on-field attention is better than getting no attention at all. This is also the case with some coaches.
This mentality by players and coaches chips away the foundation of the game; namely Team. These competitors don’t see themselves as someone who’s the face of a team, but as an entertainer using the team to grow his brand. This mentality is a selfish mindset and ultimately not good for the team or the game if this attitude grows.
Some of the other approaches to the game can be businessman, warrior, student, or discipline.
The businessman approach is a very serious one. In it, the player and coach know it is their job and approach everything in that fashion. These are the players and coaches who chose the paycheck and are not interested in anything that won’t help pad their paycheck. This is a growing mentality with free agency.
There are many warriors in the league. These players love and crave the competition. They enjoy being part of a team, especially in a leadership role and will not stand for a teammate not giving his all. They display enthusiasm, vigor, courage, and aggressiveness.
Another personality is the martial artist. One who sees football as a discipline or in other words, a way of life. This player not only prepares in the office but outside as well. Every area of his life is part of that discipline including extra strength and conditioning, nutrition, sleep, studying and anything that will help the team win. Regardless of the approach taken, the great players also take a student’s approach. Assuming nothing, constantly learning and applying a beginner’s mind.
Branding is part of the business and is important for the time when the door closes for players and coaches. The vast majority of the players and coaches put it secondary to the priority of their team and the game.
There are so many warriors, students, and unselfish competitors it is disrespectful to them when a player’s only objective is to call attention to themselves.
When watching a professional football game at any level, it is perceived as one team pitted against another; one team in a battle against their opponent.
There is an underlying psychology when a team takes the mental approach they are playing their opponent. That immediately gives the opponent credibility as a formidable foe. I have preached often to players that we are not playing them; they are playing us.
By planting that seed I’m trying to give our players a boost of confidence or self-esteem.
I would like to do this especially versus an opponent that were close in talent or even slightly more talented to eliminate any self-doubt. It was also a way to bring the emphasis back to executing our techniques and knowing our assignments. By having few mental errors and taking pride in doing the fundamentals with great technique and detail, it would give us the best chance to win.
When a team emphasizes what an opponent does and how to anticipate their actions, tactics, and strategies, it is easy to lose its own identity of play expectation. When this occurs, the post-game analysis is usually one of missed assignments, poor techniques and poor tackling. The preparation must be a balance of execution and anticipation based off education.
Many fans view football on television rather than in person. Some aspect of the battle is lost because it is difficult at times when watching from the comfort of your home or the local sports bar to grasp the battle that goes on versus the elements. Wind, rain, heat, cold and field conditions are things to which television doesn’t do justice.
We are accustomed to video games and their realistic features so we sometimes forget these are real circumstances the players are dealing with and we are not in the least bit immune to.
Wind is not a factor for defensive players or offensive lineman, but affects quarterbacks and pass catchers as well as kickers, punters, and punt returners. It is much more difficult to throw accurately and to catch when the ball moves like a baseball pitch.
The heat is an element every player on the field must deal with. It can be as much a mental toughness battle as a physical challenge. The heat can be dangerous and all the players are watched closely by trainers and medical personnel.
The cold is just simply uncomfortable and makes the collisions much more painful. The body is just not as supple and loose. Catching a pass can be painful to the hands.
A wet, sloppy or slippery field is extremely frustrating for the defense. Defensive players must react and find themselves much slower to hold their assignment. The advantage of a great take off on pass downs is negated.
The elements are a real factor in a game outcome that is lost in the broadcast and can only be fully appreciated if you are out there in the elements as well.
When dining at a restaurant you are given a menu of items to choose from. Each person will receive the same menu. The number of items on the menu will vary depending on the restaurant’s philosophy. Do they specialize in Seafood, Steaks, Hamburgers, Chicken or Pasta? Some restaurants will try to serve many different items. Once the customer is ready they place an order from the menu.
If you had a dinner party of 8, even though everyone had the same menu there will be 8 different orders based on each individual taste.
Play calling is very similar to ordering from a menu. If all play callers had the same call sheet or menu, the game would still take on many different complexions depending on the personality, philosophy, and the taste of each individual play caller. Some play callers are aggressive while others are conservative.
There are instances when you hear of the Head Coach taking over the play calling or relinquishing that duty. If you wonder if that can make a difference even though the plays or the players may not have changed, the answer is “Yes!” Like any task or skill, everyone has a slightly different level of expertise, competency, and execution.
Many factors are involved. Performance under pressure plays a big part. Does the play caller go through the emotional highs and lows of the game and let it affect their objectivity in decision making? Do they stick with the plan developed during the week when you have the most objective view of what is best for the game week opponent or do they abandon quickly? The opposite scenario can also be true if the play caller is too stubborn or committed to a plan that clearly isn’t working.
A play caller must be like the Kenny Rogers song “know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em”. You never know what kind of caller you will get until that person actually calls the game. One game is not enough data to know what you have. It will take at least a full season to get the experience needed to truly evaluate a play caller’s talent and personality.
One of the other influential factors affecting a play caller can be the talent or strength and weakness of his own team or the opponent. Obviously a great play caller takes advantage of his strength and exposes the weakness of the opponent. Some play callers are influenced by fear. Fear of giving up a big play. A lack of confidence in your players’ execution can keep a coordinator from making a call that wasn’t properly executed during the week.
Play callers can be influenced too much by the head coach when his calls are constantly criticized post-game. The play caller then makes decisions based on the way he thinks the head coach would. A play caller being anyone but himself simply doesn’t work.
Play callers can also be influenced by players. A player or players may complain or ask for certain plays that highlight them. At times the suggestions are constructive and other times don’t fit the big picture, but will be used for fear of offending the player. The play caller must be confident in himself and his plan, commit to it and let the chips fall where they may!
It is a common belief that many adjustments to a game occur at halftime. In professional football the halftime limit is 12 minutes unless otherwise specified. That 12-minute limit starts at the end of the 2nd quarter. It is awfully short. Players need time to attend to themselves for various things such as taping, re-taping, equipment, hydration, and just a minute or two to settle down and mentally unwind.
Position coaches need time to review specifics and coordinators need time to make adjustments and give players his assessment of the 1st half performance. The Head Coach will need a minute to address the full team.
When I was a coordinator I believed all of the segments were important. As a defense I would allocate 4 minutes to the players, 4 minutes to the coordinator and 3 minutes to the position coaches. This allowed the Head Coach 1 minute to make his points.
Obviously the Head Coach would take as much time as he wanted so the position coaches’ time was fluid. Four minutes to make more than one or two major changes in a game plan is not nearly enough time.
It is important to remember that the game evolves in real time on the field. Between offensive and defensive series coaches can get a lot accomplished especially if the other side of the ball is on the field for an extended amount of time. The really good coaches make changes throughout the game and don’t wait until halftime.
Play callers must recognize whether their plan needs immediate adjustments. They must identify and respond to their opponent as quickly as possible. They must be patient enough to allow the plan to unfold. They also can’t be afraid to change the plan when it is evident it is not working. When a coordinator abandons a plan too quickly or is too stubborn to change a plan, it will affect the players’ confidence and mentality. It is a slippery slope and great coaches navigate it well. If a play caller doesn’t manage the flow of the game as the season wears on, their players can lose confidence in the coach. At times the best adjustment is no adjustment. At other times some teams and players make phenomenal adjustments.
Peyton Manning was a master of adjusting plans at halftime. I believe you need a 1st half plan and have a 2nd half with some new wrinkles. Great coaches feel the game and see the plan quickly.
A professional football game, much like any event that is broadcast on TV, is so much different when seen in person. That is especially true the closer you get to the action. A football game seen from the sideline is much different than being at the stadium watching from the top row. The farther you get from the field and higher you go the more you can see the big picture and the whole field.
Coaches and knowledgeable fans who enjoy the tactics of the game plan may prefer that view because you can see the play unfold before your eyes on offense and defense. From that vantage point you get a video game type of viewpoint. You don’t hear the sounds of the game and the speed of the game is not as evident.
The general’s view of the battlefield is far different than that of the foot soldier in the battle. On or near the sideline restricts your view of the whole field. You can only see one side if you are close to the ball. You can see more of the field if you have the freedom to move farther back from the offense or defense. The sounds of the game are fascinating. Players making calls to one another not only verbally, but with hand signals in what would seem to be a foreign language to most fans. Hand signals that are so subtle, but can describe a whole play for the players on the field.
The size and speed of the athletes is much more noticeable on the sidelines when you see players next to the average person. When they are on the field together it is not as noticeable since most are similar in size relative to their position. The speed of the game is amazing and frightening at times even for a veteran of the sideline. There are some violent collisions and the sound of those collisions is a heavy thud of bodies, pads and helmets!
There is little communication during the play, just the noise of shoes on turf or grass and the sight of turf being kicked up or the rubber granules of field turf letting loose. Most players are focused on their job and don’t want or need the distraction.
When you are on the sideline you must be aware at all times. Many players make their way to the sideline and if you are not attentive to the action or don’t have the ability to quickly get out of the way you can easily be hurt. Although the sideline’s view is restricted, there is nowhere else you can appreciate the real game!!