Patriots

Why Bill Belichick cited Dwight Eisenhower when discussing preparation for Cowboys game

Why Bill Belichick cited Dwight Eisenhower when discussing preparation for Cowboys game

FOXBORO — You might remember it for the moment in which Dion Lewis undressed the Cowboys defense. You might remember it as the beginning of the end for a Patriots offensive line that was slowly torn apart by injury. You might remember it as the game that looked like a Caravaggio painting.

Tom Brady probably remembers it as a game in which he and Josh McDaniels had to throw an entire game plan out the window in order to move the football. 

"Yeah, it was a lot of adjustments today," Brady said at the time. "I don't think we practiced much of what they were doing."

The Patriots won the game, 30-6, so safe to assume they figured things out. But in the first half, they scored what was to that point in the season a low of 13 points. Brady was knocked down five times in the first 30 minutes for just the second time in his career — and the first time in 13 seasons. Coming off of a 40-point outing in Buffalo, a 51-point explosion against the Jaguars at home, and a bye week, Brady and his teammates were left searching for answers early on that week against Dallas.

"They played a few different fronts, few different coverages, stuff they hadn't shown," Brady said. "They came in with an approach. I thought we settled in, made some plays there to start the second half. But we gotta play better."

Why bring this up now? Why is this relevant? 

Well, that was the last time the Patriots played the Cowboys. Since then a lot has happened, but Brady is still the starting quarterback, McDaniels is still the Patriots offensive coordinator, and Bill Belichick is still the head coach. On the other side, Jason Garrett is still the Cowboys head coach, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli remains the boss on that side of the football. 

Part of the reason the Patriots were confounded four years ago in Arlington was because Marinelli is a he-does-what-he-does type of coach. He's been in the NFL since 1996. He loves his zone coverages. Tampa 2 — essentially Cover 2 with two deep safeties, where an athletic linebacker is charged with taking the deep middle of the field -- is his weapon of choice. He likes four-man "over" fronts, where players slice through gaps to get up the field in the hopes of creating play-altering penetration at the line of scrimmage. 

Ahead of that 2015 matchup, Belichick was confident that the Patriots wouldn't have the rug pulled out from under them offensively. 

"One thing about Rod," Belichick said at the time, "I don’t think you’re going to see much different. I think he’ll be the first to tell you that he believes in what he’s doing, he’s not going to change a lot. He’s had a lot of success — probably no reason to change it. Will there be a couple of game-plan things for us — I’m sure obviously there will — but overall they believe in what they’re doing, they do it well, they’ve had a lot of success with it. 

"I mean, I can’t imagine him putting in a new defense this week. That would be so out of character for them. They don’t need to do that. I don’t think they believe in that. But they have a lot of variety in what they do in terms of the front. They don’t run a million different coverages, but they run them well. They’re sound, they make you beat them. They don’t give you a lot of easy plays. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to block them, you’ve got to get open, you’ve got to protect, you’ve got to have enough to beat the scheme, and they play hard and they know what they’re doing. That’s what it’s always been. I can’t imagine it’s going to be much different than that."

Apparently, for the first 30 minutes of that game — seeing more three-man fronts and defensive-back heavy packages — it was. The question now is, do the Cowboys have the ability to do that again?

They're a better defense now than they were then. In 2015, Dallas finished 23rd in yards allowed and 16th in points. This year, they're 15th and seventh in those respective categories. And the Patriots offense might not be as equipped to post 30 points as they were when they had Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, LeGarrette Blount and Lewis. 

They were loaded with smart, experienced players that day at Jerry World. Players who'd been through battles with Brady and might be more prepared to toss a game plan out the window after the first half or the first few drives. Edelman remains, and James White can adapt without question. But what about Jakobi Meyers or N'Keal Harry or newly-acquired Mohamed Sanu? Or Isaiah Wynn, for that matter, who's expected to make his return off of injured reserve Sunday?

"You can't practice everything," Brady said after beating the Cowboys, lamenting some of what the Patriots did offensively that day. 

The same holds true now. It may be even more so given the experience level of New England's offensive personnel. 

Asked about facing the unknown on game day, Belichick acknowledged it's impossible to be ready for everything. But that's not something that will be any different this week against Marinelli because it's true every week. 

"I would say when you game plan in this league," Belichick said, "you never really know what the other team is going to do, all right? I know there are a lot of experts out there who have it all figured out. Unfortunately I'm not in that group, all right? The team's played four, five, six other teams and they've done different things against different teams for different reasons. They play you. You haven't played them so you don't really know what they're going to do. 

"Are they going to treat you the way they treated somebody else? Are they going to treat you differently than the way they treated somebody else? It's not the same plays. It's not the same players. There's always an element of, 'Here's what they did the last four games.' But that's not against you. Teams will do different things against your team than they've done against other teams. As they should. Might not be a new play. They might just run different percentages of man coverage or zone coverage or split zone versus post-safety zone, or blitz zone versus regular zone, whatever it is. That's the way it is every week. 

"This is 45 years. I wish I could tell you a week where it hasn't been that way. But I wouldn't be able to. You take the information that you have. Sometimes the last three or four games may not mean anything. Maybe the only thing that means anything to you is just the last couple times you played a team. If you look at it that way, you might be right. You might be wrong. But you have to figure out what you're going to prepare for. So you're not going to prepare for eight games. There's 500 plays and they're going to run 60. That's just ridic ... You can't do that."

And, again, Belichick said that Marinelli probably won't unleash a bevy of unfamiliar plays against his offense at Gillette Stadium this week. But Belichick is expecting wrinkles.

"I don't think Rod's going to come up with six new blitzes and four new coverages this week," Belichick said. "But is he gonna play us the way he played Detroit? I don't know. Go ask him. Is he gonna play us the way he played Philadelphia and the Jets? I don't know the answer to that question. Not all those games are the same. There's elements that are the same, there's things that carry over, but they don't do the same thing on every play. 

"It's the same every week. You prepare for what you prepare for and then you get in the game. It's just like Eisenhower said: Preparation is important for the war and then once the battle starts, you can throw it all out the window. You play the war, fight the battle. That's what we do. Once the game starts, we try to figure out how the game is going, make adjustments, do the best we can at that point in time. The rest of the preparation doesn't really ... might be relevant but it might not."

There's been an unbelievable amount of information laid out by both the Patriots and Cowboys — Belichick and Garrett, McDaniels and Marinelli — since 2015. Trying to trace meaning from a game four years ago to this week's might be a fool's errand.

But the Patriots found out that day that Marinelli wasn't as predictable as they thought. Which may lead them to prepare for more this week, which could be a challenge given the challenges this offense is already facing. 

While this week will be about Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and the others that've made this offense one of the most efficient in football in 2019, it's worth remembering what Marinelli and his defensive staff did to open that game four years ago. 

You can bet Brady and McDaniels will. 

Looking for the best unfiltered Patriots conversation each week and throughout the offseason? Listen and Subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast!

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

With NFL deadline in place, is a flurry of opt-outs coming?

With NFL deadline in place, is a flurry of opt-outs coming?

With an opt-out deadline of Thursday at 4 p.m. now set, we’ll see if a final flurry of players decide to take a pass on the 2020 NFL season.

As of Tuesday morning, 49 players have opted out of the 2020 season. Eight of them were Patriots — by far the highest number of opt-outs in the league (the Cowboys and Browns have the second most with three each).

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

This deadline is earlier than the original one the NFL and NFLPA originally agreed upon. Initially, the deadline was to come seven days after the two sides signed off on the myriad amendments to the CBA to get the 2020 season off the ground. But the process of getting the two sides to actually finalize the deal and sign it took so long, the league wanted to move up the date.

That rankled Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who railed on Sunday against the league tinkering with the agreed-upon seven-day period. 

In the end, the league got its way with some concessions coming back to the players.

As it stands now, there are two ways an NFL player can opt out of the 2020 season after the 4 p.m. ET Thursday deadline:

1. A new diagnosis he has one of the agreed-upon high-risk conditions.
2. A player’s family member dies, is hospitalized or otherwise moves to a medical facility because of COVID-19 or related condition.

If a player lives with someone who is a high-risk individual, he can request alternate housing that the team will pay for. The cost of that housing will count as a player benefit and be reflected on the salary cap.

Obviously, this is some stark language. A player can opt out if a family member dies because of COVID-19? If someone in your home is later designated high-risk, the league will help you move out?

No matter how remote the possibility of worst-case scenarios may be, seeing them spelled out is jarring.

With all teams reported and now into the strength-and-conditioning portion of this ramp-up, there’s probably a developing level of comfort among players for the precautions in place and logistics. The question of “what’s it going to be like” has passed.

But for players who’ve now seen what it’s like or who bristle at the rules now officially in place — a fine system for “refusal to weak mask, PPE or tracking device or maintain social distancing during team travel” for instance — that Thursday deadline could be busy.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Should Patriots spend newfound cap cash or roll it over? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

NFL opt outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps officially began Tuesday, but there were some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Six New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)
S Jordan Lucas (August 3)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (Aug. 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (Aug. 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (Aug. 2)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Las Vegas Raiders

CB D.J. Killings (August 3)
DE Jeremiah Valoaga (August 3)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB CJ Mosley (August 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (August 3)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)