The opposite of boring

I have no idea why people thought last night’s Super Bowl was boring. To the contrary, it was one of the most exciting, cerebral games in the history of the sport.

The Rams’ defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, had matched McDaniels’ calls all night. Mostly, the Patriots could do nothing against the Los Angeles sub defenses. Because the Rams’ front was so formidable with pile-pushers Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, they could afford to play one or two extra men in the back end and limit Tom Brady’s passing options with three strong corners. So McDaniels told his men they were just going jumbo, which would force Phillips out of his sub packages and put linebackers on receivers the Patriots trusted could beat them.

McDaniels would keep only one small player on the field—Julian Edelman. And on the next series, he’d play two tight ends (the lightly used Allen and Rob Gronkowki), a fullback (James Devlin), a big back (Rex Burkhead) and Edelman.

“It was a pretty amazing thing,’’ said Allen, one of the beneficiaries of McDaniels’ invention. “Hats off to the Rams. They really knew us. They played us great. But football’s about in-game adjustments. Josh told us on the sideline, ‘We did not practice this at all coming into this game, and I realize that, but this is going off in my head, and it’s something I think we need to do.’ “

The Patriots had averaged 4.9 yards per play in the first 50 minutes of the game. On this drive, they averaged 13.8. New England played what it considers its athletic big offense, and it worked. Gronkowski beat linebacker Samson Ebukam up the right flank for 18 on first down, then hit Edelman on linebacker Cory Littleton for 13, then Burkhead in the left flat for seven, then Gronkowski between Littleton and Mark Barron down the left seam for 29. Sony Michel subbed in for a two-yard touchdown run. Five plays, 69 yards, TD. Pats, 10-3.

Afterward, Bill Belichick praised McDaniels as much as I’d heard him praise any of his coaches. Belichick called the McDaniels change a “real key breakthrough,” and said McDaniels “made a great adjustment,” and called his play-calling “outstanding, as usual.”

One of the things the more casual fans of the game don’t understand is that a team’s ability to “make adjustments” is very limited by the fact that they have to have practiced the plays to which they are going to switch, that’s what it means to have a game plan. A game plan is essentially a book of plays that the team has repeatedly practiced that week, and there may not be another team in the league with an offensive roster capable of switching completely to formations and plays that are not in that week’s game plan.

Part of that is because New England makes such drastic changes in its game plans from week to week. Even if the jumbo package wasn’t a part of the Super Bowl game plan, there were times this season when it was a major part of the weekly game plan so the players were at least familiar with the plays involved. A second part is that New England has the smartest roster in the league, so the players are able to make the necessary changes without being confused or out of position or mixing up their assignments even when running plays they haven’t practiced. And the third part is that McDaniels has the confidence and courage to make such a high-risk call, one that most head coaches, let alone offensive coordinators, would never, ever make.

Remember, most coaches won’t even go for it on fourth down for fear of criticism. Imagine how much flak both McDaniels and Belichick would have taken for abandoning the game plan in a tie game in the fourth quarter deep in their own territory if something had gone awry.

As for the commercials and the halftime show, who cares? That’s all nonsense for the non-fans. I didn’t see any of that stuff.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *