Didn’t think I was going to do this, but a few thoughts popped into my head Monday morning regarding the Super Bowl, the participants and what the Washington Redskins can learn:
Coaches aren’t miracle workers and fans who expect a coach to completely transform a player are expecting something that has a high probability of not happening. Players must accept guidance and transform themselves.
And all a coach can do is put a player in position to make a play. The player has to finish the deal. But to ignore the impact of good coaching is to ignore reality. The Patriots’ game plan consistently allowed their receivers (Julian Edelman in particular) to gain yards after the catch by opening the middle and running off the outside cornerbacks. Also, the Pats were allowing a lot of pressure up the middle, but eventually adjusted to that as well to give Tom Brady time.
Finally, on that ill-fated pass, it stemmed from one horrendous call (if you’re going to pass, use play-action and a bootleg -- the two best assets are Marshawn Lynch's legs and Russell Wilson's legs for goodness sake) and one great job of preparation. Malcolm Butler was inserted into the game midway through to offset the Seattle height advantage at receiver. But he also was clearly well-prepared based on his reaction off the snap leading to the interception.
Stick with the plan
The Patriots did not panic when down 10 entering the fourth quarter, and never tried for quick strikes. They stuck with the game plan of how they wanted to attack Seattle with a lot of underneath throws and it worked. And they never panicked when the run game did not produce the way they probably anticipated, but the ability to adapt was crucial.
This is a tough one, because it’s not like the Redskins can look at Brady and say this is what you need to do. He might be the best of all-time and is in a different class. The Patriots are built differently than the Redskins, but what both sides should teach them is to take what you have and build around strengths. Both Super Bowl teams did. Brady’s quick reads, decision-making and accuracy allow them to work the short stuff with great success. The Seahawks use a lot of play-action and let Wilson’s decision-making on the run and run threat help them move. Different approaches; both work. But it starts with knowing who you have and what you want to do.
Pass-rushers change games
The Patriots had to adapt to Seattle’s ability to get quick pressure inside, and most quarterbacks and offenses would have succumbed. The Seahawks happened to face one team that could adjust. Still, the point is the same: Pass-rushers impact games (and losing Cliff Avril to a concussion really hurt Seattle). The Pats did not apply much pressure, and it was one reason Seattle was in position to win the game. Yes, blocking pass-rushers matters, too (especially if your quarterbacks take longer; that's OK, but you had better protect them more if that's the case). But when you can pressure with four, you can have so much more success.
Both Wilson and Brady had some tough moments. But they both rebounded to do some great things. Robert Griffin III isn’t bad in this area, but it’s one that obviously kept Kirk Cousins on the bench after his five-game stint. Wilson showed it in the NFC Championship Game, too. Games against great teams will include big mistakes, but it’s always about how you respond.
Constructing the roster
The benefit of success is stability, and the benefit of stability is crafting your roster around what you need -- not overhauling it every four years. It gives players a chance to grow and develop. Sometimes you get lucky (if they thought Wilson would be great, they would have drafted him in the first round, not the third). But mostly you get the right people in place and let them operate. I’m guessing that neither owner is highly involved in personnel decisions. They are not football people, you know? Success is about knowing who you are -- not who you want to be -- and building accordingly. I like the hire of Scot McCloughan as Redskins general manager, because he has worked for three successful organizations and remains a fervent believer of how they build rosters and organizations. The last word is important: Organizations win titles and construct teams that last. Never forget that point.
I've written a few times about watching New England practice last summer, and what a thrill it was to see how a team at that level operates. The Redskins were in their first year of a new program, so there was going to be a natural difference. But I'm also now curious to see how the Redskins look in Year 2 under Jay Gruden and the approach they take (after the coaching hires and whatever moves they make). You can't mimic something you're not -- Gruden is not Bill Belichick -- but the Patriots were all about business when on the field, and their elite guys competed like heck in every drill.