NFL coaches have such a finite amount of time during the week.
Bill Belichick has to prepare a message to send to the New England Patriots every day. He’s got to get ready for first down, second down and third down periods, then get ready for red zone, situational football and blitz packages.
So, there's no way the coaches can do that juggling act of breaking down film from an opponent they might play later on.
That job is up to the scouting department.
A big part of the scouting department’s job every year is doing research on a new opponent or a team you may not face a lot. Starting in the offseason, they’ll start writing up reports on teams you don’t have a ton of familiarity with.
As you get closer to the end of the season and the AFC playoff picture becomes more clear, it’s still up to the scouting department to get an understanding for your potential opponents.
So, when that day comes and you find out you're playing Chiefs or Texans or whomever, they can hand you a full packet of statistics and percentages when you walk into the building.
That preparation is huge for coaches and players. You get all the information you need, and now you can focus primarily on, “OK, they like to do this on third down, they like to do that on first and second down.”
That happens down the road for us, but in the meantime, the scouting department really takes the lead on all that stuff.
The young coaches on the staff who are still in assistant roles also do a ton of the heavy lifting in terms of breaking down film, breaking down an opponent and putting it into the computer system.
When that day comes and you find out you're playing Chiefs or Texans or whomever, they can hand you a full packet of statistics and percentages when you walk into the building.
Once you know your opponent, the scout team also plays a huge role.
I've played on a lot of scout teams, and many of them will have a little 10-minute meeting before practice to discuss how we can give the defense an accurate look.
Different assistant coaches run the scout team, and it might be the quarterbacks coach talking to you about how your opponent uses cadences.
For example: "They like to use ‘Blue 80,’ but when they go double cadence, they like to use 'White.' Or if you’re on the road, it might be something in terms of their foot strike."
The coaches will give you indications in those meetings based on what they’ve seen on film to help you simulate what the other team is going to do.
A team like the Baltimore Ravens is hard to simulate, though.
A scout team can't possibly give the defense the look that Lamar Jackson presents.
For one, their offensive unit has unique personnel. They run three tight end sets most of the time with one wide receiver and a running back.
Second, you can't possibly give the defense the look that Lamar Jackson presents.
A lot of times the scout team will have a wide receiver or running back run the zone read if they’ve ever run that in college to create that speed that Lamar has.
But a lot of times the defense is smart. They’re like, “Obviously they’re going to be doing a zone read here because they’re not going to be throwing the ball with a receiver or running back.”
So, it’s hard to really recreate that offensive unit because they’re special in terms of what they do.
But if Baltimore becomes the Patriots' opponent later on, that Week 9 game is something they'll absolutely lean on.
The Ravens can only change so much in terms of an offensive unit and what they’re doing. And why would they? Nobody’s stopped them.
So then you can take from that game, build from that and make yourself better the next time you go against an opponent like that.
Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.
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