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How Bill Belichick Can Lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl Victory in 2012

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How Bill Belichick Can Lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl Victory in 2012
Photo: AP

A fascinating article recently caught my eye. It's Kerry Byrne's piece on Cold Hard Football Facts.Com titled "Belichick's secret: exposed!"

In an effort to explain Bill Belichick's uncanny success throughout his career, Byrne proposes this thesis statement:

His secret is not a command of the complexities of the game...His secret is, instead, a command of the most basic, the most brutal and the most instinctive parts of the game.

Belichick's defenders, especially his defensive backs, are taught to beat the living [bleep] out of opposing players.

Byrne's article substantiates this thesis by dissecting several important defensive-driven games from Belichick's history, including the 1986 NFC divisional playoffs, the 1990 NFC title game, Super Bowl XXV, Super Bowl XXXVI and the 2003 AFC title game.

The article discusses how Belichick's football brilliance lies in his willingness to exert unapologetic brutality on the field. Byrne concludes his article with these thoughts on Belichick's grisly methods:

Doesn't take a mad scientist to come up with that strategy. Just a guy who understands football.

It's a great article with a great premise and more than enough facts to back it up.

But the article is from January 2007.

A lot's happened since then.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It's interesting to read Byrne's article now, having the luxury of knowing what's transpired since the time it was written.

But for a moment, think back to when it was written. Picture your life back then. In January 2007, if someone had told you that the Patriots were going to lose two Super Bowls to Eli Manning and the New York Giants, would you have believed them? If someone told you that the Patriots wouldn't have earned their fourth ring by 2011, would you have believed them?

Yep, a lot's changed.

But some things are still the same: Tom Brady's still the best quarterback in the game. (In fact, he's gotten better.) The Patriots are still kings of the AFC East, and they're the defending AFC champions. By many estimations, New England is still the team to beat.

Part of why our team has managed to keep so much of their elegance intact is because our offensive prowess is off the charts. Tom Brady and Wes Welker get better and better. The overall numbers illustrate New England's consistency from year-to-year: 

2007: first overall in the NFL in total offense

2008: fifth overall

2009: third overall

2010: eighth overall

2011: second overall

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Good stuff. Consistent rankings. From 2007 to 2011, the Patriots have retained their Super Bowl-caliber offense.

But why haven't we won a ring since 2004? 

The answer can be found in our defense. Here's where we've ranked over the years:

2007: fourth overall in the NFL in total defense

2008: 10th overall

2009: 11th overall

2010: 25th overall

2011: 31st overall

Based on these contrasting sets of numbers, two truths can be understood: The Patriots are still bankable as a top-10 offensive squad, but they're gradually getting further away from being a top-10 defensive team.

During the 2012 offseason, Belichick addressed his pass-rush woes by moving up in the draft twice to snag defensive prodigies Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower. These were fantastic choices. Both guys will have an immediate impact against opposing quarterbacks. Jones, especially, has "superstar" written all over him.

But after brilliantly plucking Jones and Hightower, Belichick made a series of sketchy draft selections, picking players that demand only modest expectations from Patriots fans.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Plus, he really didn't address the woes in his secondary, which was profoundly dismal last season.

These continuing difficulties in Belichick's secondary are odd, to say the least, considering how profound his career has been with regards to his defensive backs. Remember the quote from Kerry Byrne's article:

Belichick's defenders, especially his defensive backs, are taught to beat the living [bleep] out of opposing players.

Byrne discusses Super Bowl XXV, back when Belichick worked as a defensive coordinator for the Giants:

Belichick's game plan from that performance literally sits today in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Buffalo's Pro Bowl wide receiver, Andre Reed, gave us perhaps the greatest insight into why it worked: He said after the Super Bowl that he had never been hit so hard in his life.

Byrne discusses Super Bowl XXXVI, when Belichick won his first ring as the head coach of the Patriots:

New England's defensive backs brutalized the fleet-footed St. Louis receivers, while the linebackers and linemen chipped in to maul superstar running back Marshall Faulk, "hitting them when they had the ball," as NFL Films reported, "and hitting them when they did not."

It may have been the highlight of Belichick's coaching career, pulling off a huge upset against one of the great offenses in NFL history. At the end of the day, the Patriots won because they out-hit the opposition.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Byrne discusses the 2003 AFC title game:

The Patriots, with Belichick as head coach, humiliated the Indy Colts and their high-powered offense with a 24-14 victory.

Indy's receivers were beat up so badly in that game that the organization complained to the NFL afterward. The Colts forced the league to redefine the rules to make it easier for receivers to get open and more difficult for defenders to man up against them.

The Colts, of course, were well aware of Belichick's secret weapon: blatant brutality in a game defined by it. Their complaints were essentially an effort to neuter Belichick and deny him his secret gridiron cudgel.

It hasn't worked, of course. New England beat the Colts the following year in the playoffs, too, with an even greater defensive effort: a 20-3 victory over an offense that had scored 522 points in the regular season.

Byrne's final thoughts:

New England's defense continues to play well...because it continues to physically brutalize many of its opponents.

So, after all that defensive-heavy information, the question is: Why are we, as Patriots fans in 2012, constantly worried about our defense?

More questions: Why is our secondary always a topic of dread? What happened in the time span since Byrne wrote his article? What's changed?

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Well, here's the answer: Our offense got too beautiful. Sounds ridiculous, but it's the truth. Somewhere along the line, our team came to define offensive excellence in the NFL, and we fell in love with that mystique.

Between Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd, we've become the picture-perfect model of a passing team in a passing league.

But, by undergoing this transformation, we seem to have lost something very special. As Bob Dylan once wrote: "Everybody must give something back for something they get."

In this case, we became a perfect finesse team on offense, but we surrendered our grit on defense.

We didn't lose two Super Bowls to the Giants because we weren't good enough. We lost because we weren't tough enough. We got out-muscled. The Giants didn't win two Lombardi trophies from us. They took two Lombardi trophies from us. They ripped it out of our hands with sheer force.

The basic fact is this: We aren't winning Super Bowls with this finesse thing. Sure, we're banking terrific regular seasons and scooping up AFC crowns, but we're not winning the big prize. This finesse thing is only taking us so far. In the end, the teams with more "machismo" are taking our trophy.

The writing is on the wall. We can't count on our offensive brilliance to win the ultimate prize. To win the Super Bowl in 2012, we must be tougher, meaner, uglier and grittier.

That's why I loved Shane Vereen's performance in the preseason opener. Brian Hoyer fed him the rock over and over, which forced us downfield for a score. It was an ugly drive, but there was beauty within the ugliness. We stuffed it down the Saints' throats. We forced our will upon them by force.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

I'm not saying that we should abandon the beauty of our offense. Nobody loves Tom Brady more than me; I love watching him slice up defenses like a surgeon. Brady's my hero. I wear his jersey almost every day.

But still, deep down, I know that a fancy offense isn't good enough. We need muscle. We need to be mean. Sweet passing isn't enough.

Yes, this is a passing league, but football isn't just a passing sport; football is a test of mental and physical strength in all positions. Passing is only one element of the game. It's an essential element, of course, but it's still only a piece of the puzzle.

I think we can all agree that Tom Brady is a better quarterback than Eli Manning, yes? But we've lost twice to Manning and his Giants. That means that the better quarterback lost twice. Why? Because passing isn't everything. Grit matters. Anger matters. Toughness matters. Defense matters.  

So, where do we stand on defense? 

Well, our secondary is still shaky. Like I said, Belichick didn't really fix this problem over the offseason.

It seems like Belichick is counting on guys like Jones and Hightower to force opposing quarterbacks into making mistakes which the secondary can capitalize on in the backfield, thereby making a wishy-washy secondary look like a shutdown secondary.

One could surmise that the intended goal is to build up the confidence of these defensive backs and hope they use that self confidence to take their game to another level. In other words: Get a so-so secondary to play like an elite secondary by making them believe they're better than they are. 

Win McNamee/Getty Images

It's a brilliant bit of deception for a common good.

But will it be enough to work? That remains to be seen.

But one thing is true: Finesse won't get the job done. It might get us to the Super Bowl, but it won't win us the Super Bowl.

Toughness matters. Attitude matters.

Belichick needs to stand up in front of the team and say: "Hey, you guys lost twice to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Aren't you mad about that? You should be. Even the new guys should be mad. Whether you played in those Super Bowls or not, your jersey lost. You wear that jersey now, so you lost, too. Get psychotic. Get ruthless. Go out there and stuff everyone into the ground. Annihilate everyone you see until you hoist that trophy. Only then, when you're at the top of the mountain, can you look down at the trail of your victims and say, 'Hey guys, sorry about that. No hard feelings, OK?'"

We have the best coach in the NFL and arguably the best quarterback in history. Let's go out and play tough. Let's get our grit back. Let's become champions again. 

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