Saturday, November 03, 2007

X + 0 = A Tiring Day's Work for Gostkowski

Several Patriots fans of my acquaintance have said they wished they could read more tactical football stuff about tomorrow's game with the Colts and less about Bill Belichick's moral fiber or lack of same. I'm with them there. It is fair, however, to point out that technical football is difficult to discuss without diagrams or videotape, neither of which sportswriters or most bloggers have at their command. NFL coaches do not post game tapes on YouTube, although it would be fun if they did.

I'll try anyway. Let's examine the game from the defensive half of Tony Dungy's brain. That is, how would one attempt to thwart, or at least occasionally bother, New England's offense,which is on track to be the highest-scoring bunch in pro football history?

Let's start with the basics. Teams do what they do. Dungy must play off the Colts' basic defensive scheme and the strengths of his personnel. He cannot transform his corners into Michael Haynes and Night Train Lane and announce "we'll jam the hell out of them on the line."

Basic number two. For once, this cliche is not an ESPN catch-phrase. Dungy CAN hope to contain the Pats. He can, indeed, must plan on the expectation the Colts will score a few points, too. Since they have put up an average of 35 points in their last three games with New England, that's only reasonable. If the Pats' defense shuts down Peyton, well, the Colts' defensive game plan won't matter much.

There are our ground rules. What should a speedy, slightly undersized, young defense with excellent tackling fundamentals built on the two-deep zone do against the Pats? I will present my suggestions in bullet-point form, because I need to rake out the catchbasin before the rain starts.

1. Mix it up. Tom Brady can evisercate any single tactic enough to render it useless. See the Cowboys-Pats game. Dallas built its plan on rushing Brady. This was necessary, since its coverage sucks, and its rush is good. Alas, rushing the passer is a very tiring activity, and by the fourth quarter, the Cowboy defenders could barely stand up. The primary lesson Bill Belichick has taught pro football is that good teams can walk and chew gum simultaneously. Show different looks, accepting the fact Brady will guess right on several six-point occasions.

2. Forget the run. If Maroney beats you, so be it. He's not the Hall of Famer on that offense. Every time Brady hands off is a partial victory for your side. Fast linebackers must be able to react to the ball in time to keep runs at 4 yards, not 8.

3. Don't obsess about Randy Moss. This is another "turning into the skid" counterintuitive idea. Defenses are taught from childhood to stop the run and prevent the big play as life priorities 1 and 1A. The Cowboys, Dolphins, and Redskins all gave Moss extra attention on every play, and gave up 149 points between them. Undefended passes are usually the biggest plays of all.

3A. Whatever coverage Moss gets, make sure it keeps him outside. Those are somewhat more difficult deep throws. We are working at the margins, here, remember.

4. Aim for the one tiny weak spot in the Brady death star. The closest thing to a weakness in Brady's game is that he is prone to fumbling when he's hit. You must have at least one of those. It would be worth a penalty or two to get it.

5. When it's third and goal, cover Vrabel. It's the principle of the thing.

6. Aah, the hell with it. If I'm Dungy, I'm going to spend the next 31 hours hoping Dwight Freeney has his first non-invisible game against the Pats of his career, and hoping harder that Marvin Harrison's leg gets better. To paraphrase Charley Brown, I'd tell my strategy to shut up.

One man's guess: Patriots 41-Colts 31


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