There's a wonderful documentary series on NFL Network called A Football Life. It's a unique series which provides intimate glimpses into the minds and methods of important football icons.
One particularly amazing episode follows Bill Belichick during New England's 2009 season. The episode perfectly captures Belichick's highs and lows in vivid detail, placing the viewer in a very intimate space with a fiercely private genius. It's pure greatness, scene after scene.
One scene, in particular, stood out.
The scene took place during a Monday coach's meeting, following the team's overtime loss to the Broncos. It was a drab and dreary meeting, laced with frustration and quiet aggression. Belichick was irate over faulty execution, across the board. Specifically, he was angry that the offense only manufactured 17 points. He unleashed some scathing sarcasm on the room:
[When] that Wednesday practice was over, where did the receivers go? Straight in, right? Right? Did we stay after practice with the receivers and [Tom] Brady? No, no, because we've got it down. We're all set, we don't need any extra work. That sums it up right there for me, it really does. Sky's the limit. There's no telling how good we can be.
After his caustic scorn subsided, Belichick unloaded everything in a very blunt and crystallized way:
Offensively, really, we've seen this now twice, if you just take [Randy] Moss away in the deep part of the field and get down on [Wes] Welker, we're done. We're done. We can't run the ball. We can't throw to anybody else. We're done.
Belichick said this back in 2009. Now, we're preparing for the 2013 season. Randy Moss is long gone. We've moved on to two tight ends. It's a whole new offense. And yet, somehow, Belichick's words are still just as relevant. That's startling, isn't it?
The Patriots still have the same problems. They're known as a great offensive juggernaut, but they only scored 13 points in the 2012 AFC Championship and 17 points in Super Bowl XLVI. That's the kind of pitfall that Belichick was referring to with his sarcasm. This juggernaut offense is beatable.
When Belichick talked about smothering Moss and Welker, he was talking about the blueprint to beating the Patriots. That blueprint really hasn't changed much over the years, even without Moss.
Here's the blueprint for beating this new Patriots team: Put consistent pressure on Tom Brady. Give him all the yards he wants, but limit his touchdowns to about two. Get down on Welker, give him his yards (he doesn't score much anyway), keep him honest on key plays and force him to drop the ball in crucial situations. Smother Gronkowski and Hernandez, contain their overall production.
That's it. That's all it takes to beat the machine right now.
This is what Belichick was talking about back in 2009: Weak point totals in big games and crystallized blueprints for the world to see. His words are still relevant.
Free agency is a perfect opportunity for the Patriots to turn that blueprint into an antiquated document. They can get it all: A dynamite receiver, a dynamite pass rusher, a dynamite defensive back, a dynamite leader. It's all there for the taking.
Failure to acquire the right pieces will ensure that the same old ghosts continue to haunt them.