Hearing football stories from the past is often entertaining and here is one from Carl Banks that traces back to the Patriots and the 1994 season. Banks is the longtime linebacker whom I spoke with for a piece on Pepper Johnson.
The 1994 season was a turnaround campaign for the Patriots franchise.
Bill Parcells was in his second season as head coach, Robert Kraft had purchased the team and announced that it wouldn’t be moving to St. Louis, and the Patriots posted a 10-6 record and earned a playoff berth.
The team’s first-round game was against Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns.
“I guess I can let the cat out of the bag at this point,” joked Banks, who played linebacker for the Browns alongside Johnson that year. “One of the things we did that week was study Drew Bledsoe and the relationship he had with his receivers, and we noticed from watching that he’d usually hit on five [steps in his drop] and then the ball was out. He was usually looking to two places – Ben Coates or the outside receiver.
“What we decided to do was disrupt the timing of that, starting with Coates. On first and second down, I said ‘I can take care of Ben’ and we knew that if he was tied up, it was going to the outside receiver. We even took it a step further – whoever was the line judge watching the tight end, I literally went out and told him what I wanted to do. I said, ‘I’m going to be very rough with the guy, but let me know if I am holding him.’
“I remember Coates was complaining throughout the game, but the line judge told him, ‘Hey, it’s not holding within five yards.’ That was our plan.”
The plan produced a 20-13 Browns victory in Cleveland, with the Browns intercepting three passes.
Banks relayed the story as an example of the type of thinking that Belichick-coached defenses adopt, making the point that those were the type of things Johnson was doing as a player, so he’s equipped to do them now as a possible coordinator.
“When you coordinate defenses that’s what you want to do –- get a feel for those relationships,” he said. “It wasn’t just about defending the pass to Ben Coates, because we never knew how they would try to do it, but more understanding his role in the offense. When we finally beat the great San Francisco teams [with the Giants], it wasn’t specifically trying to defend Jerry Rice or Roger Craig, but more understanding what they were trying to do with them. Only then could we break through.”