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. 

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Cam Newton provides update after openly wondering how he'd 'mesh' with Bill Belichick

Cam Newton provides update after openly wondering how he'd 'mesh' with Bill Belichick

How well will Cam Newton and Bill Belichick work together, we've wonderedNewton asked himself the same question when he found out that the Patriots were interested in signing him earlier this offseason. 

He shared his thought process on YouTube during a roundtable discussion with Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham and Todd Gurley: "I said, 'Hold on. How, how is me and Belichick gonna mesh?' You know what I'm saying?"

Well . . . plenty of time has elapsed since then. Newton and his new Patriots teammates have been at Gillette Stadium this week going through what Belichick has compared to the NFL's typical "Phase 1," which usually takes place in the spring and consists of meetings as well as strength and conditioning workouts.

So how has it gone? How have Newton and his new head coach meshed?

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"Listen, listen," Newton said during a WebEx conference call with reporters Friday. "There's a lot of things that I say that there's a perception, but at the end of the day, it's football. I've loved it ever since I've been here. 

"I've been here, going on a week, now and you hear rumors about certain things, but once you finally get settled in on things like that, none of that really matters. It's just all about finding a way to prove your worth on the team."

Belichick has coached all types of personalities, and had success with all types, during his Patriots tenure. Tom Brady was different than Rob Gronkowski, who was different than Randy Moss, who was different than Corey Dillon, who was different than Richard Seymour, who was different than Willie McGinest, who was different than Tedy Bruschi, who was different than Matt Light. 

Newton is a unique personality with a unique skill set who may require a unique approach from the Patriots coaching staff when it comes to drawing out his best. And there may be some bumps in the road as the team finds the right path to maximizing Newton's stay in Foxboro. But for now, according to Newton, everything is going swimmingly. 

It helps that before Newton even set foot inside the team's facilities, they'd established a track record that has him ready to buy into Belichick's way of doing things. 

"I'm still constantly -- I don't want to say in disbelief, but it's just a surreal moment," Newton said. "Nobody really knows how excited I am just to be a part of this organization in (more) ways than one.

"Following up such a powerful dynasty that has so much prestige and lineage of success -- a lot of people would hide from the notion to do certain things, but for me, I think this opportunity is something that I wake up pinching myself each and every day."

Patriots' Cam Newton says there's nothing to worry about with his health: 'I feel amazing'

Patriots' Cam Newton says there's nothing to worry about with his health: 'I feel amazing'

Jarrett Stidham may feel like he has a chance to be the starting quarterback in New England. Bill Belichick may be looking forward to having an open competition at that position. But if Cam Newton really feels the way he says he does, the decision could be closer to final than anyone is willing to admit at the moment.

Asked if he'd be restricted at all by his surgically-repaired right shoulder, Newton replied in no uncertain terms. 

"At this part point in time, sir," he said, "I'm a full go."

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Newton needed to go under the knife in both 2017 and 2019 to fix up his shoulder. The most recent procedure came in January of last year, after a midseason hit to his right side in 2018 mangled the upper portion of his arm, impacted his delivery, and waylaid his performance in a season when through eight games he was near the top of the league in a number of statistical passing categories.

It was a foot injury in the summer of last year that limited him to just two games played in the regular season. That led to surgery in December. 

But almost a year removed from the foot issue, and 18 months removed from his most recent shoulder procedure, Newton told reporters on Friday that he has made his way to New England in very good health. After fighting through injury for each of the last two years, he may be closer to the Newton that beat up on the Patriots back in 2017 than anyone realizes.

"Just right now, for me, this season's not here yet so I do still have time," Newton said. "Working with the training staff here as well as having all the outlets at your disposal to get better and to be as confident come opening day, or when the team may need you, I think that's the most important thing. 

"As far as how I feel right now, I feel amazing. I feel great. Not any different than any other person in that locker room right now so I'm extremely optimistic about that. Through it all, it's just putting yourself in position to be in the best shape and having your body in the best possible situation when you actually need it."

Though he used words like "amazing" and "great" to describe his health, it sounded like Newton wanted to hedge a bit. Perhaps even he knows there's a lot that can happen between now and the start of the regular season when it comes to his well-being. After all, last time he got hurt badly was on the Gillette Stadium turf, trying to avoid a hit early in a meaningless preseason game. 

But for now he's healthy. And he's motivated. Some of that is inherent. He didn't necessarily need to be released by the team that drafted him, he didn't need to linger on the free-agent market for months to experience the sensation propelling him forward in this new chapter of his career.

"I don't have to prove nothing," he said. "Especially not to nobody. I have to prove to myself. That's a daily challenge. I don't think nobody's expectations will ever surpass my expectations for myself. I'm just looking forward to the challenge. 

"Knowing, picking up this whole system, not only the philosophical way of the offense but also how things are ran. This is a new team. I've only been geared by one particular team and one particular city. Now moving to a whole nother residence has kind of put the onus on trying to adapt. That has been the rather interesting part."

Still, there is a part of Newton -- a part that he's not afraid to show on social media -- that wants to let people know he's ticked. 

The Panthers get some, though he said he wishes them "nothing but the best," because he's been uprooted. The rest of the league gets some because it allowed players like Marcus Mariota and Andy Dalton to sign before him (and for more money). But he's using that as "fuel," he explained.

"Look, I wake up mad," he said. "Know what I'm saying? The fact that I'm not able to see my kids on a regular basis, that's what makes me mad. At the end of the day, for me, I'm not gonna dwell on the past. I'm a self-motivator. Even though the past is the past, I'm not gonna keep looking back."

That approach usually plays for Belichick and the Patriots. If it's the one Newton will carry with him to his new team, and if he's healthy, then odds are he'll be playing too.