Patriots

Belichick vs. Phillips a longstanding battle

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Belichick vs. Phillips a longstanding battle

FOXBORO - Bill Belichick's been coaching in the NFL since 1975. Wade Phillips has been in the NFL since 1976.
Both men are the sons of football men and made their bones on the defensive side of the ball.
Their paths have crossed innumerable times. Monday will just be the latest installment in a long-running battle between football minds.
How many times has a team with Belichick on its staff faced a team whose defense was headed up by the Son of Bum?
I came up with 26. Phillips was the Eagles defensive coordinator from 1986 to 1988 and Belichick's Giants beat Philly four straight times before losing a pair in overtime. While with the Broncos as DC and head coach, Phillips went 4-1 against the Giants and Belichick's Brown.
While with the Bills from 1995-2000, Phillips was 6-5 against the Jets and Patriots. Phillips was 1-1 while with the Chargers including a 41-17 beatdown at Gillette and a 24-21 loss in the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoff. The last time Belichick coached against Phillips was when Phillips was the head coach in Dallas and the Patriots hammered the Cowboys.
So overall, Phillips' teams are 14-12 against those coached by Belichick. The style, Belichick says, hasn't varied.
"I think hes pretty much kept the same system through all those (stops)," Belichick explained. "Their 3-4 is really more of a one-gap 3-4 than a two-gap 3-4. They shade those guys and they play a pretty high amount of man coverage, which hes done in the past. It varies a little bit but they play quite a bit of man coverage and then they go to their sub defense which is a dime defense in this case, where they bring in Quentin Demps at safety and whoever the third corner is, theyve had a couple injuries but whoever that third corner is and move Glover Quin down."
To simplify that just a bit, the Texans' defensive line and linebackers are each responsible for a gap in the offensive line. In a two-gap system, defensive linemen need to react to the blockers and occupy "two gaps" by being immovable objects and then flowing to the side the ball is headed while linebackers come up and fill.
A 3-4 defensive end in Phillips' system like J.J. Watt can amass 15.5 sacks and 15 batted balls through 12 games. Meanwhile, a 3-4 defensive end in Belichick's system like Richard Seymour never had more than eight sacks or 36 tackles.
The man coverage element means the Texans will get up and press and redirect receivers, gumming up timing on the outside while the front-seven goes on attack. It's a defense that -- when well-executed -- can make an offense look ugly. The ball needs to come out fast and receivers have to win their routes at the line of scrimmage. The defense doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about creating the best matchup by subbing in and out, said Belichick.
"This isnt the most complicated team weve ever seen, but what they do, they do well," he pointed out. "Theyre well balanced, they do enough things to keep you off balance to complement what theyre doing so theyre not just setting one track. They have a lot of multiples and variables but its contained within the system."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady echoed that, saying, "Its not like there are 120 calls that they have on their call sheet for this game, but there are always wrinkles that you'll see and new things that you havent prepared for. What they do, they do very well."
There's undeniably an element of Ravens, Steelers, Jets, "cuttin' the boys loose" in this scheme. And each of those teams' defenses has given the Patriots issues over the years.
"I think (Phillips) allows his players to go out there and play aggressively and make plays," said Brady. "Certainly when you have guys who can rush the passer the way that he does, you kind of turn those guys loose and let them go do their job. And they get home, and you dont have to come up with 25 overload blitz schemes to do that when youve got players like J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin. They can rush the quarterback and get home and he expects those guys in the secondary to cover, and they can all do that."
They can, but will they? There is a counter to all this. Every scheme has a counter. Executing that counter is what's important. In this instance, the Patriots will have to run the ball well on first down and stay out of second and seven-or-more. If they fail to, their chances of winning that series are reduced because the Texans are so good on third down (46 of 162 conversions allowed for 28 percent). The Texans can be run on. They're allowing 4.1 yards per carry. But they often have been ahead enough to make opponents bail on the running game and throw.
Having a receiver who can consistently win his one-on-one matchup is vital as well. If he can beat one-and-a-half defenders, (a corner and safety, as Detroit's Calvin Johnson did so often on Thanksgiving) more's the better. This will be a huge game for Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Brandon Lloyd hasn't shown that he's physical enough or savvy enough to beat physical corners at the line of scrimmage. If he somehow digs down and finds that in his game, he'll be a focal point. But if he can't -- or the Patriots have already decided that's not his bag -- he may have another quiet game.
As for the counter to the pass rush itself, bet on speed. The Patriots can go warp speed and simply try to wear out the Texans pass rush. At this point, the New England offensive line is conditioned to play at a fast pace. And even if Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly aren't there, every backup has played enough now so that the Patriots can actually run waves of offensive linemen at the Texans. It's an unusual tack to take but it makes some sense.
"Theyre not going to let you off the hook," said Belichick. "They're going to give you the variables every week, youre going to have to decide how youre going to handle them and sooner or later youre going to see them. They do a very good job doing what they do."

Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

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Ryan's 2 TD passes enough as Falcons hold off Seahawks 34-31

SEATTLE - Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons did enough through 3 1/2 quarters that even the best comeback attempt by Russell Wilson fell short this time.

A couple of yards short to be exact.

Ryan threw a pair of touchdown passes, Adrian Clayborn returned a fumble 10 yards for a score and the Falcons watched Blair Walsh's 52-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds fall short, holding off the Seattle Seahawks for a 34-31 win on Monday night.

Atlanta won its second straight to stay on the heels of New Orleans and Carolina in the NFC South, and handed Seattle a second consecutive home loss.

"What an absolute team win from the guys tonight," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. "Coming here, in this environment, with the crowd, we thought it would be two competitive, tough teams that were going to battle for it in the biggest way."

Ryan threw TDs to Mohamed Sanu and Levine Toilolo, while Tevin Coleman added a 1-yard TD run on Atlanta's opening possession.

But it was Clayborn's fumble return that helped break the game open early in the second quarter and gave Atlanta a 21-7 lead. He scooped up a loose ball after Wilson was crunched by Takk McKinley and Courtney Upshaw.

"I think we're moving in the right direction. We keep proving we can finish games and beat guys. We have to take the momentum and keep rolling with it," Clayborn said.

With Seattle down 11 points, Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 29-yard TD with 3 minutes left and then threw to Jimmy Graham for the two-point conversion. Seattle got the ball back and moved in range for Walsh, whose attempt was on line but landed short of the crossbar.

"That was in our range, and in hindsight I would have just driven it more," Walsh said. "I would have driven it more and not left it short. I was too accurate and didn't have enough on it."

Wilson again was the entirety of Seattle's offense, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and running for another 86 yards and a TD.

But it was an awful night for the Seahawks, filled with more injuries and questionable decisions by coach Pete Carroll. He called for a fake field goal late in the first half rather than attempting a 35-yard kick. He also made a questionable challenge in the fourth quarter that didn't go his way and left Seattle with just one timeout.

That lack of timeouts came back to haunt Seattle on the final drive when seconds ticked away and rather than running one more play, Walsh was sent out to attempt the 52-yard kick. His long for the season is 49 yards.

The conclusion only amplified Carroll's baffling decision at the end of the first half, when Seattle ran a fake field goal rather than having Walsh attempt a 35-yarder that would have pulled Seattle within 24-20. Holder Jon Ryan completed his shovel pass to Luke Willson, but Grady Jarrett read the play and tackled Willson for a 4-yard loss.

Willson said Atlanta's defense on the play was different than what Seattle had seen on film.

"It would have been a really good call if we had made it," Carroll said. "Terrific opportunity right where we wanted it and the defensive tackle made a better play."

Seattle played a game for the first time since the end of the 2010 season without Richard Sherman. His streak of 99 consecutive starts in the regular season was snapped because of a torn Achilles tendon suffered against Arizona. The Seahawks were also without safety Kam Chancellor because of a neck injury, leaving their vaunted secondary with several new faces.

"Those two are phenomenal players. ... It was a lot different," Sanu said. "They did a lot of different things but we just had to take advantage of our routes."

MATTY ICE

Ryan was more than happy to pick on a defense without Sherman and Chancellor. He was 19 of 27 passing for 195 yards and rarely faced pressure. Seattle had one sack, and the Falcons went 9 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Sanu made a great one-handed grab for a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Ryan found Toilolo on a 25-yard TD in the third quarter to give Atlanta a 31-20 lead. Matt Bryant added a 19-yard field goal with 3:49 left to put the Falcons ahead by 11, and Wilson's late heroics weren't enough.

Ryan's streak of 64 straight games passing for at least 200 yards was snapped.

INJURIES

Seattle's injury woes continued. The Seahawks lost rookie cornerback Shaquill Griffin to a concussion on the second play of the game, forcing newly signed veteran Byron Maxwell into a more prominent role than expected.

Early in the second half, promising running back Mike Davis was lost to a groin injury after taking a screen pass 21 yards. Davis had two receptions and had carried six times for 18 yards before getting hurt. Seattle also lost starting guard Oday Aboushi in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Atlanta got a scare when safety Keanu Neal was checked for a concussion in the first half. He was cleared to return.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Host Tampa Bay on Sunday to open a three-game homestand.

Seahawks: Travel to division foe San Francisco on Sunday.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

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EX-PATS PODCAST: How Belichick the perfectionist will find flaws in win vs. Raiders

0:55 - Patriots playing great as they stream roll the Raiders but Koppen explains that Belichick will knock them down as he strives for perfection. Also talk about how it takes a couple months into the season for the coaches and players to learn each other again.

5:40 - Stephon Gilmore playing excellent lined up against Michael Crabtree. Malcolm Butler bounces back but gives up the only score to Amari Cooper. Koppen suggest Butler’s contract situation might be affecting his play. 

7:50 - All in on the Patriots defense yet? Giardi and Koppen discuss the defensive play and the upcoming offenses the Patriots will be facing.

10:30 - Dan Koppen talks about job security in the NFL and if he ever worried about somebody else taking his job, and the cutthroat nature of the Patriots. 

13:50 - Tom Brady picking apart the Raiders and Jack Del Rio’s defenses throughout his career. 

17:45 - A debate about Patriots backup quarterbacks and if Matt Cassel was actually a good NFL QB. 

21:20 - A few game notes: Rex Burkhead’s fumble vs. the Raiders, LaAdrian Waddle filling in for Marcus Cannon.