If Bill Belichick can make an NCAA heavyweight national champion wrestler (wrestling, not wrasslin’) into a three-time Super Bowl champion offensive guard, you’d think he could take a Stanford-smart safety and coach him into a linebacker before the post-lunch film session, right?
File this one under “Well, it was worth a shot”, I guess. In a sentence that’ll make you read it twice to make sure you’re not still hung over from the game, David Harris, the quintessential savvy veteran Belichick favorite that signed with New England for one last shot at a title, played only two snaps against the Chiefs, while Jordan Richards, the aforementioned 5’11, 211 pound safety, played 41 snaps lining up much closer to the line of scrimmage in linebacker-ish position. Most of those came in a dime package that the Patriots apparently thought would shut down Kansas City’s west-coast-style offense, which...yeah, about that...it didn’t go well.
Richards didn’t rush, but he did drop into a spy/coverage linebacker type position quite a bit, like you probably saw on the red-zone play where Kareem Hunt caught a pass in the flat and shot straight into the end zone, and by the time Richards realizes what’s going on, he’s already at least three steps too late. Check it out at about 3:00 here.
Ironically, on running back Kareem Hunt’s long-bomb touchdown where he roasted new Patriots defensive end Cassius Marsh, Richards was closing in on quarterback Alex Smith and ready to knock him into next week, only for that old gunslinger Alex Smith to let it rip for a 70+ yard score. Life is weird. Skip to about 5:15 if you don’t believe me. Richards actually lines up wide on the edge, gets blocked initially, then cuts across the line and gets closer to the quarterback than anyone probably remembers.
So when he was asked after the game about the position change - and playing more snaps in Week 1 of 2017 than he did in the entire 2016 season - Richards said he was down to move to a different role if it got him a chance to play.
“Obviously, it’s different from the past two years,” Richards said Friday. “But I just want to try to find a role in the defense.” He added: “It’s just a learning process. You’re always learning, and I want to play good football all the time. Whether I’m playing close to the line of scrimmage or back deep, I always want the end result of the performance to be good. So it’s always working toward that.”
As one might expect, Belichick wasn’t particularly chatty about why they played with so many defensive backs on the field, other than that
“We did what we thought was best for the game,” Belichick said. “Obviously, things didn’t work out good. They gave us a lot of receivers on the field, different combinations of them, so we played more defensive backs or those type of players. That’s part of the matchup. But we didn’t do nearly as good a job of it as we need to do. We’ve just got to do a better job. It’s no one guy, it’s no one play, it’s no one thing.”
That sounds like typical “We’re on to (whatever)” unless you noticed Kansas City running a whole bunch of college-type spread offense formations and lining guys like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill up all over the field.
And if anyone knows how effective the spread offense can be once the offense finds a mismatch to pick on - like, oh, let’s say, Wes Welker vs a linebacker for pretty much his entire illustrious Patriots career - it’s New England. So if we take Belichick at his word there, the scheme actually makes some sense, given that the last thing you want when your opponent is running four or five wide receiver formations is to see your bigger guys hopelessly roasted and toasted on deep and short throws alike by smaller players and quicker tight ends that eat when they get separation like Kelce does.
Another Belichick riff on a classic can also explain why this didn’t work and the Patriots are currently sitting in the basement of the AFC East (sarcasm intended):
“Maybe the one word that isn’t in that’s implied is ‘Do your job well’.”