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Archive for Friday, January 28, 2005

Belichick just your everyday genius

Nondescript Patriots coach quickly can command attention when it comes to football

January 28, 2005

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— Matt Light was trying to explain to a faceful of microphones what it was like to play for coach Bill Belichick.

"We just do what we're told, basically," the Patriots' left tackle said. "That's what it comes down to. We just go about our business, very workmanlike. There's no smoke and mirrors. There's not a magic curtain."

And that's exactly what you notice when Belichick enters the interview room at Gillette Stadium for a news conference. Wearing a gray hoodie, he emerged from a side door, walked up to the podium and waited for the clamor in the room to quiet itself. Belichick squinted into the TV lights.

"This is some turnout for Stacey James," Belichick said quietly. James is the Patriots' top public-relations man.

He may have looked like a neighbor showing up to borrow your rake, but this was the undisputed master of NFL head coaches. Belichick has won two of the last three Super Bowls and is one victory over the Eagles from No. 3.

That would give him a 10-1 postseason record, one win better than Vince Lombardi's.

In other words, this guy knows his stuff. So it was fascinating to listen to him talk about the Eagles, about what he has seen in breaking down film of the team that stands between him and coaching immortality.

Of course, Belichick said nice things. Like every coach in history, he understands the value of talking up your opponents, as well as the danger of saying something negative that can motivate them. But even with that qualifier, Belichick's take on the Eagles was illuminating.

He is deeply impressed by Sheldon Brown, for example.

New England running back Kevin Faulk stands in front of his locker.
Faulk and the Patriots met the media Thursday in Foxboro, Mass.

New England running back Kevin Faulk stands in front of his locker. Faulk and the Patriots met the media Thursday in Foxboro, Mass.

Belichick complimented the rest of the Eagles' secondary, and said that left cornerback Lito Sheppard was "an outstanding cover guy." But it was very clear Brown was the player he would love to plug into his own excellent defense.

In general, Belichick seemed to appreciate what fellow defensive technician Jim Johnson has accomplished with the Eagles.

"It's never easy against Philadelphia," Belichick said. "They give you a lot of different looks. You just don't go back there and look and throw and say, 'There's a guy who's wide open.' You hardly ever see that on film. You have to make a good throw, and when you do, there's somebody right there. They contest you for every single yard."

Belichick made a very interesting comparison. It might have been calculated to get his own team's attention.

The Eagles' defense, he said, "is similar in concept, but different in execution, to the Miami defense."

Now it just so happens that the Dolphins were the last team to beat the Patriots, and their defense harassed quarterback Tom Brady, who threw four interceptions. So keep that in mind. Still, Belichick's analysis rang true.

"They have size inside and speed on the outside," he said.

Belichick was talking about the size of the defensive tackles as well as middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, and the speed and quickness of defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess, as well as the outside linebackers.

To become the first team to beat Brady in the postseason, the Eagles are going to have to generate the sort of heat the Dolphins did. Clearly, Belichick already has started reminding his players of what went wrong in that game.

Similarly, the Eagles' offense will be effective only if Donovan McNabb can get the ball to Brian Westbrook. Belichick's all over that, too.

"McNabb, we do a highlight film on pretty much every week," Belichick said. "Westbrook is the leading receiver in the NFC among running backs. They do a good job of moving him around so that you have to put different people on him. Sometimes that's a guy you don't want."

Belichick and his staff started breaking down the Eagles almost immediately after the Patriots beat Pittsburgh on Sunday. They spent Tuesday and Wednesday putting their game plan together. Thursday, today and Saturday were set aside for teaching that game plan to the players.

Next week in Jacksonville, Fla., they will go over it again. They will fine-tune.

There's no way Belichick revealed anything he didn't want to reveal about that game plan. Still, it was intriguing to hear the NFL's top coach talk about the Eagles. Belichick dismissed every possible outside factor: the Pats' Super Bowl experience, the Eagles' uncertainty about Terrell Owens, whatever.

"Whatever we have, we have," Belichick said. "Whatever they have, they have."

No smoke. No mirrors. No magic curtain. Just a regular guy in a sweatshirt who happens to have this game all figured out.

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