5 reasons why Bill Belichick is the NFL's coach of the year
As the New England Patriots prepare for their AFC Divisional Round playoff game on Saturday night against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, it is time to take a look back on the regular season for the Pats. A 12-4 record won the AFC East division and earned New England a first round bye in the postseason. Sounds like you've heard that before, right? When you look at the season that was, there is one thing in particular that stands out amongst the rest, and that is the coaching job that Bill Belichick put forth this season. As many people would agree, 2013 is certainly "The Hoodie's" best coaching job of his career.
Sure, Andy Reid took a team that was 2-14 and turned them into an 11-5 team that made the playoffs. But all the Chiefs really needed to get to the next level was a good quarterback, and they acquired that in Alex Smith. "Riverboat" Ron Rivera took the Carolina Panthers from an underperforming 7-9 squad to winning their first division title since 2008 with a 12-4 record, but the Panthers were filled with a young nucleus of talent just waiting to breakout. Chip Kelly could garner a few votes as well because it was his first year, but Philadelphia snuck into the playoffs in Week 17 and were bounced out in the first round. All in all, Bill Belichick is the NFL's coach of the year because he did more, ultimately with less. Here are a few more reasons why this is Belichick's best coaching job yet:
1. Injuries to key players
At first glance, seeing the New England Patriots finish the season 12-4 with a first-round playoff bye is the usual, not surprising at all. The Patriots are normally a team built with top players from top to bottom, loaded with talent. However, that is not so much the case this season. New England has been absolutely depleted by injuries; not just injuries, but season-ending injuries to key players.
Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon Spikes, and Tommy Kelly all will be watching the Patriots postseason run from the sidelines on injured reserve. Shane Vereen, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aqib Talib, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, Steve Gregory, and Devin McCourty all have missed games due to injury as well. For those of you keeping track at home, thats 13 (yes 13!) starters who have either missed time because of injury or are out for the season. How do you compete with that many key players not in action?
Belichick and the Pats aren't operating with their full staff each and every game; its more like a week-by-week 53-piece puzzle that is put together. Yet this team still wins.
2. Lack of offensive weapons
If you were to publicly state that the 2013 Patriots are loaded with offensive talent, you would be lying to yourself. Sure, they have serviceable talent that fits their system. In some cases, that's all you need. But by no means is this the high-flying 2007 Patriots, who then set the record for most points scored, or the 2013 Broncos, who just broke those '07 Patriots scoring record. Tom Brady is working with 2 rookie receivers in Dobson and Thompkins, a poor mans Wes Welker in Amendola and Edelman, two seemingly no-name tight ends in Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui (with Rob Gronkowski out for the season), along with Shane Vereen out of the backfield and castoff veteran Austin Collie. However, a running back-by-committee approach has worked wondrously for the Pats.
Like Super Bowl winning teams of the past, the Patriots seem to be at their best when handing the ball off to LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, Vereen, or Brandon Bolden and getting those "tough" yards. An excellent offensive line has created opportunities for those backs, and they have certainly seized them. Once again, this isn't the explosive, high-scoring Patriots team we are used to seeing. Yet, they still finished third in the NFL with 27.8 PPG.
Belichick and Brady are doing more with less. While 2013 has statistically been a down year for the Golden Boy himself, Tom Brady, he is still as good as he has ever been. In a season reminiscent of a 2006 team whose top receivers were Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown and Jabar Gaffney, could the Patriots put together a 3-game stretch with what they've got and win a Super Bowl? At this point, only time will tell. But in the NFL, you never know.
3. Rookies/young players
As a direct result of injuries and loss of players in free agency, many rookies and young players have been forced to step up. Phrases Bill Belichick swears by, such as "do your job" and "next man up" could not be more representative of this season. The development of young players, such as Chandler Jones, Donta Hightower, Shane Vereen, Nate Solder, Alfonzo Dennard and more have had a huge impact on the success of the Patriots. Hightower led the team in tackles with 97. Jones led the team in sacks with 11.5 and was a reliable and constant pass-rusher all season. Vereen was utilized in both the passing and running games and was an unsung hero all year long.
However, the most paramount reflection of Belichick's coaching in my opinion has been Julian Edelman. Once a college quarterback, Edelman was turned into a receiver/punt returner in his first few years as a Patriot. After Wes Welker left the team via free agency, Edelman stepped right in and picked up right where Welker left off. 105 receptions and 1,056 yards later, Edelman is Tom Brady's top target in the passing game. Now that is an example of the Patriot Way.
Rookies are another key to the formula of success for Belichick. Rookie Logan Ryan currently leads all rookies with 5 interceptions. Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, and even Sealver Siliga have started in place of Vince Wilfork and done a great job. Aaron Dobson fought through early season struggles to turn into a reliable target in the passing game when healthy. Kenbrell Thompkins did the same, as evidenced by his game-winning touchdown catch vs the Saints in Week 6. Second-round pick Jamie Collins has been a playmaker when called upon in sub-package situations and proved viable in both pass-rushing and pass-coverage assignments.
It just seems as if it doesn't matter what name is on the back of a Patriots jersey when Bill Belichick is coaching. He gets the best out of his players, no matter who it is. It is a guarantee that whoever is on the field will perform, and all credit of that goes to the head coach.
4. Mental Toughness
After watching all 16 games this season, plenty of things about this years team caught my eye. The one thing that unquestionably stands out about the Patriots? Their mental toughness. Whenever times would get tough, this team would never lay down. They would always fight, as evidenced from their 5 comeback wins. No task is too tall to overcome for these Patriots, and the adversity they have faced through injuries has been insurmountable. This team just has the "it" factor. Down 24-0 versus arguably the best team in the league? No problem. 1:13 left and no timeouts? Easy money. Two touchdowns in 61 seconds to win 27-26? Mentally. Tough.
On top of score deficits, it isn't easy to see your two defensive leaders, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, go down for the season with injury. Or watch the spark plug that ignites your offense, Rob Gronkowski, tear his ACL after already missing the first 6 games of the year. Most teams would falter and lose hope without their top players. The Patriots do the opposite of that- they rally around it.
If you ask me, mental toughness separates the good teams from the bad teams. How will you respond when you get punched in the mouth? Every NFL roster has talent. Any team can beat any team, on any given day. But how do you coach mental toughness? The great coaches of the NFL seem to get their players to just "have it". With Bill Belichick and the Patriots, all 53 men being mentally tough has separated this team from being 4-12 and 12-4.
5. Game-planning & in-game adjustments
The strategic mastermind himself has been at his best this season when it comes to weekly gameplans and adjustments. Each and every week, the Patriots were one of the most prepared teams in football. And when their initial gameplan didn't work, Belichick adjusted schemes and formations to better fit the flow of the game and their opponent. Without his masterful coaching, the Pats may be watching the playoffs from their couch right now.
Take the Broncos game for example. The first half was an absolute disaster for the Pats. Turnovers led to easy points for Denver and a 24-0 deficit for New England. The Patriots offense was stagnant even when they didn't turn the ball over. The Pats looked like they couldn't beat a high school team the way they played in the first 30 minutes. But once the second half began, it was a completely different story. A fired up offense had a new focus and shredded the Broncos secondary, scoring 31 points in the second half and forcing overtime. The defense held its ground as well. A Stephen Gostkowski field goal capped the comeback after a special teams miscue by none other than Wes Welker.
When it comes to X's and O's, not many coaches were better this year than Belichick. And when you look at the players he had on the field for him, the way he utilized each player's unique skill set into the team's strategy was truly something special. As a result, the Patriots won their 10th AFC East title in 11 years and are hosting a home playoff game this weekend. Lather, rinse, repeat.
In the end, the coaching job that Bill Belichick displayed this season was nothing short of spectacular and needs to be recognized. With everything the Patriots have faced throughout the past year, it truly is a testament to the coach for where the team itself stands, and it is something Belichick and owner Robert Kraft should really be proud of. This guy hasn't won 3 Super Bowls and 214 career games for nothing. He is a damn good coach and one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest. A .692 career postseason winning percentage shows that he is at his best when it matters most. And as long as he is around, the New England Patriots are contenders every single year. Starting Saturday night, we will see if Belichick can continue to add to his legacy. And if my money were on the line, I wouldn't bet against him.