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2020 NFL playoffs: Patriots walk fine line between installing new things and focusing on fundamentals

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Miami Dolphins Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The regular season is in the books, the playoffs are upon us. Eight teams will enter the tournament later this weekend, among them a New England Patriots squad that is facing considerable questions as it heads into its wild card matchup against the Tennessee Titans: the offense has struggled to get into a rhythm for much of the year — especially in the passing game — while the defense is coming off its worst performance of the season.

If there ever is a time to get more consistent, it is now. How can this be achieved? Improved execution and better communication particularly on the offensive side of the ball are a key factor, but the Patriots could also opt to implement new wrinkles into their attack. While hold something back when there might not be another game after this one, right? According to New England head coach Bill Belichick, however, it is not all that simple.

“That’s really the question of the week every week: how to balance those things,” Belichick said during a media conference call earlier this week when asked about the fine line he and his staff walk between installing new things into the game plan and focusing on improving the fundamentals. “Each week’s a different challenge, and each team presents a little different scheme and the player matchups are different.”

“I think you always find some things that you want to try to attack, and if it’s something that fits easily into what you have or what you do, then it’s pretty easy to put that play in the game plan,” he continued. “If it’s something that would cause a little bit of new teaching, or new learning, or new timing, so forth, then you have to decide which of those plays, and how many of those plays and which players they would involve, especially if it requires multiple adjustments to be made on a play.”

For Belichick, it all comes down to how much time the Patriots want or can invest in this process. The future Hall of Famer continued that the question is the same for every week and that coaches and players only have limited resources available as they prepare for the upcoming opponent. Take this week as an example: New England played its final regular season game on Sunday, and only six days later will go up against the Titans.

“That’s the same question every week, and it’s the one that the coaches have to answer because there is only so much time, so many plays, and you may see some opportunities on film, but it’s just not something that you do and you just don’t have the time to commit to it to do it as well as one of the other teams that’s executing it on film,” he said. “Then sometimes you just have to let that go if you don’t have that particular scheme in your plan.”

“You only have so many plays you can run in practice and so many things you can get ready,” Belichick continued. “And you’re only going to run, call it 65 plays a game anyways, so you try to find that right balance. But, that’s a challenge for every coaching staff every week. That’s really the heart of the coach’s job — one of them, anyway — is to make those determinations and figure it out.”

For the Patriots, those determinations could go either way: they do have a deep play book on both sides of the ball as Belichick mentioned, but installing something new just for the sake of it could potentially backfire as it limits the time spent on fundamental football. The latter, of course, will be big come playoff time especially against a time like Tennessee that runs its program in a similar fashion capable of taking advantage of any lapses in this area.

Over the years, the Patriots have proven themselves capable of making the right decisions when it comes to preparing for an upcoming opponent and there is little doubt tonight’s game will not be more of the same. The question is whether or not this will be enough to advance past the Titans given the team’s recent development.