It’s hard to replicate what the Patriots have created in New England.
Everybody on the coaching staff is so dialed into Bill Belichick and his process and they all work simultaneously together.
You're in sync as a collective group because the groups all teach the same way. They all understand why they're running certain plays and the team's general philosophy and have the attention to detail that doesn’t normally exist in other places.
That's why it's a challenge for anybody who leaves New England, whether it’s Matt Patricia or Josh McDaniels or Romeo Crennel. They probably brought pieces of the Patriots organization with them, but they're still grabbing people from organizations who they may have relationships with.
Those people might not completely understand what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re trying to run your team. You might have differences in opinion on certain things, and that can be difficult.
Anybody who’s been in that organization understands Bill’s philosophy and how he sees the game -- particularly Romeo, who was his defensive coordinator for so long. So, there’s definitely some benefit to understanding Bill’s overall approach.
But the interesting part to me for a guy like Romeo is, when he was with the Patriots, they ran more of a 3-4 defense with a base Cover 4. New England's defensive structure and scheme has evolved over the years into more of a four-man front with a lot more nickel and dime packages featuring multiple defensive backs, and they also have different personnel than they did when he was there.
You may understand Bill’s general philosophy of handcuffing an offense by taking its best player away, but you still have to go out and get your roster ready to play a Patriots team that normally is very fundamentally sound, has great technique, doesn’t beat themselves and plays great situational football.
Understanding their general philosophy is one thing. Executing your game plan is a whole different challenge. I don’t think Romeo is calling many offensive plays, so while he can tell the Texans offense, “I think this is what they’re trending toward on defense and here’s what to expect,” it’s upon the coaching staff and the players to understand that message and react, because the Patriots are a "game plan" offense and defense. They’re going to change, so you have to be able to adapt quickly on the run when you’re in the middle of a game.
It’s not always what you talked about during the week, either. It could be the polar opposite.
When I was with the Vikings in 2014, I got an opportunity to play against the Patriots. The whole time leading up to that game, they were in a 3-4 defense. That was what we had watched on film for the first two weeks of the season.
The next thing I know, we show up to the game and they’re in a four-man front with three linebackers, which was completely opposite of anything we had seen to that point. And it was all man coverage -- hardly any zone.
So, you can put together the best game plan, but when you get into the middle of a game, sometimes you go, “What the hell just happened? They’re doing something completely opposite!”
Bill and his coaching staff watch the film. They understand their key matchups, what they need to do overall and where they might be able to take advantage of a weakness of a team. That’s what they’ll base the game plan on.
It’s not, “Romeo knows our general philosophy and how we like to run things.” It’s more, “Who’s a weak spot on their offensive line that we can attack up front?” Or, “Where do they struggle against the run? Is it to the right side? Do we want to run away from the safety?”
All of those different game plan elements -- that's what the Patriots' coaching staff is discussing, not whether Romeo knows what Bill has done in the past.