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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Jarrett Stidham focused on improving during 2020 offseason, not Tom Brady's free agency

Jarrett Stidham focused on improving during 2020 offseason, not Tom Brady's free agency

Tom Brady is set to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his 20-year NFL career. While the legendary quarterback could return to the New England Patriots in 2020, there's no guarantee that he will.

If Brady doesn't return, the Patriots will have a number of ways to address the quarterback position. They could target a free agent passer in one of the strongest free agent quarterback classes ever. They could spend a draft pick on one in a strong 2020 quarterback draft class.

Or they could roll with the only other quarterback option they currently have on their roster, 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham.

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Stidham spent his rookie season backing up Brady and played a grand total of 15 snaps for the squad. He completed 2-of-4 passes for 14 yards and threw an interception in that action.

Despite his relative inexperience, Stidham would theoretically be the next man up at quarterback if Brady leaves. But moving forward, he isn't thinking a lot about Brady's impending free agency. He's more focused on what he can do to improve heading into his second year.

"Right now, I can't really think too much about [Brady's free agency]. I have to worry about what I need to do to prepare to enhance my game, to learn as much as I possibly can," Stidham said per ESPN's Mike Reiss. "That's the biggest thing I've focused on, making a big stride from Year 1 to Year 2."

That said, Stidham did call his time learning as Brady's backup "priceless" and said that Brady is "phenomenal" in all facets of the game.

"He's a phenomenal teammate, a phenomenal person, obviously a phenomenal player," Stidham said per Reiss. "There was just so much that I got to learn from him. He was obviously very open to me about stuff that he's thought about the game of football, and stuff like that. It was great. I can't speak highly enough of that guy."

Perhaps Stidham's time learning from Brady has served him well. After all, Patriots fans haven't seen him in action since Week 7 and Phil Perry reported that Stidham was impressing his teammates and coaches alike in late-December.

But is he ready to be a starter? The Patriots moves this offseason will surely tell us more about their thoughts on that.

The Patriots won't definitively know what Brady's plans are for 2020 until he puts pen to paper somewhere. In the interim, it's at least encouraging that Stidham is putting in the effort behind the scenes to improve after spending a year learning from Brady. 

Eminem name-drops Tom Brady on his just-released album

Eminem name-drops Tom Brady on his just-released album

Tom Brady appears to have a kindred spirit as his career continues into his 40s.

Eminem name-drops TB12 on the track "Premonition" off the album "Music To Be Murdered By" which he released on Friday.

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The song takes on the critics of the 47-year-old rapper from Detroit and compares the critiques he gets to ones leveled at LeBron James, 35, and the Patriots quarterback, who'll turn 43 in August. 

Here's part of the song:

“Revival flopped, came back and I scared the crap out ‘em

But Rolling Stone stars, I get two and a half outta

Five, and I’ll laugh out loud

‘Cause that’s what they gave BAD back in the day

Which actually made me not feel as bad now, ‘cause

If it happened to James

It can happen to Shady

They do the same [expletive] to Brady

More people hate me than love me

This game will make you go crazy.”

It's not Eminem's first reference to Brady in one of his songs. In 2013's "Baby", he raps, "I'm what Tom Brady is to the Patriots of rap. Not a man, a weapon."

And it's just the latest Brady reference that has dotted hip-hop and rap since the mid-2000s when the QB led the Pats to the second and third of the six Super Bowl titles they've won. Other artists such as Drake, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane and Kanye West have referenced him as a symbol of excellence. 

Brady told the Boston Globe last year before the Super Bowl he appreciates it.

 “That’s always really cool,” Brady said. “I’m a big fan of so many of those guys. I have a lot of friends [in music] that I’ve met over the years that are fans of what we do, too...I think that mutual appreciation or admiration is really flattering.”