Nowadays, NFL games are oftentimes not just decided by which team has the better players but also by who is better prepared entering a contest. One key aspect of this process is collecting and relaying information. The team that knows its opponent – its strengths, weaknesses and tendencies – and adapts accordingly is the one that will most of the times come away victoriously.
Information, however, is like avocado ice cream: getting as much as possible looks attractive but there is a point when too much no longer helps you achieve the desired results. And while not everyone in the NFL might see it the same way, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is among those who think that too much information poses a challenge for coaches and players alike.
The best coach in pro football has therefore turned to other sports to find out how information flow gets handled. Belichick found inspiration in the way Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala conducts business: “I’ve learned a lot from him that way; the way he presents the game plan to his team right before the game was something I started doing,” Belichick recently said (via ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss).
New England's head coach was participating in the Belichick Foundation's Championship Chat alongside Paul Rabil and moderator Paul Carcaterra and explained how information moves from coaches to players: “We go through the whole week and game plan and cover it very thoroughly. But what Coach Pietramala did was 30 minutes before the game – [one coach] would go through the offense, [another coach] would go through the defense.”
“He just captured the whole game [plan] in 30 minutes,” Belichick continued. “I wasn’t there all week, but in 30 minutes I could see exactly what they were going to do.” The Patriots' head coach, who is never afraid of trying new things – running 12 personnel as the base offensive formation or bringing Chip Kelly's high-speed offense to the NFL – and changing his coaching style when he sees fit, said that his team also started doing that.
“I think that helped our players refocus, because one of the things in our sport is too much information,” Belichick said during the event. “You talk about a team for a whole week – oh, my God – there’s like 8,000 things to remember. ‘All right, let’s bring it down, what do we really have to do here?’ You can boil it down to four, five important things and cover it in five, 10 minutes. That’s really the heart of the game.”
Belichick did not say when the Patriots started doing those pre-game breakdowns but a look at their defense's Super Bowl 51 whiteboard shows that they already identified bullet points for their title game against the Atlanta Falcons. The 10-point list included bullet points such as “Eliminate #11 & No Big Plays” and “Win Turnover Battle = Win Game.” Winning the information battle is equally important – and Bill Belichick knows this.