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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Bucs Need Coaches That Can Make Better In-Game Adjustments
I’ve learned a lot in my two decades of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL, but one lesson of the game has stood out to me more recently. That’s the ability to make adjustments – quickly.
That’s something the 4-8 Bucs just don’t do on either side of the ball on Dirk Koetter’s staff, and that is plaguing the team this season.
I’ve learned that the best coaches are the ones who make the fastest in-game adjustments. In my opinion, that may be the most important game-day coaching aspect at any level.
It’s not scheme. Given time to study film, schemes can be thwarted.
It’s not necessarily motivational ability. Good pep talks only go so far, and don’t help when a team is trailing by 20 points or when a losing year is inevitable halfway through the season. Former Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley was full of inspiration and motivation and was liked by everyone. Yet his Jaguars were routinely outfoxed and outplayed during his four-year tenure.
Figuring out what an opposing team is doing offensively and defensively and making the necessary adjustments is what separates bad coaches from good coaches and good coaches from great coaches. That’s true at every level of football.
Making adjustments is defined as the ability of how quickly a coach and a staff can figure out: 1. What the opponent is doing AND 2. Successfully anticipate what the opponent will do next.
Staying one step ahead and not falling behind your opponent – and not just on the scoreboard, but also in the flow of the game as it relates to the clock – is the most critical part of successful coaching. That’s why New England’s Bill Belichick and his staff are the best in the business. Belichick and the Patriots coaches are the best prepared and they make the best in-game adjustments.
Defensively, it starts with taking away what the opposing offense wants to do the most. The Patriots are like a chameleon on defense, changing each week to blunt the opponent’s best weapon. New England has the personnel to run a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense either week-to-week or play-to-play.
Belichick knows you want to “zig,” so he’s going to make you “zag,” and he and his staff have already anticipated your zag and they already know how to stop it, too.
“The only sign we have in the locker room is from ‘The Art of War.’ Every battle is won before it is fought,’” Belichick told CNBC’s Suzy Welch.
Some NFL teams have an identity on offense and say, “This is what we do. Try to stop it.”
That’s not what New England does. Offensively, the Patriots look for weaknesses in defenses and mismatches to exploit.
Some weeks the game plan is to take shots downfield, while other weeks it is to feature short passes and screens. New England will run the ball 35 times and feature the ground game one week and then just ignore it and have less than 20 the next week – all based on the match-ups.
“You [have to] know what the opponents can do, what their strengths and weaknesses are … [and] what to do in every situation,” Belichick told Welch. “Then once you get into the game the adjustments will be – I don’t want to say it’s easy, but relatively easier and more manageable.”
The Patriots don’t have the most complicated and sophisticated schemes. Sometimes their game plans end up being downright simple. Belichick has been called a “mastermind” and a “genius,” but it’s not because he always outsmarts the competition. Sometimes it’s because he knows less is best.
For Belichick there reaches a moment when the pre-game preparation is enough, though.
“When everybody knows what to do because our game is so fast and everything happens so fast and so quickly,” Belichick said. “So you review the situation and you review the communication and you want to make sure everybody is on the same page.
“We try to make sure everyone’s on the same page. If it’s too complicated it’s probably not going to work. If it’s too simple that might not work either because it’s too obvious. So we try to find that fine line in the middle where it’s challenging enough for your opponents but it’s something you can execute because it all comes down to execution.”
Other coaches are good at making in-game adjustments. Seattle’s Pete Carroll, New Orleans’ Sean Payton, Carolina’s Ron Rivera, Arizona’s Bruce Arians, Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin are among the better ones. That’s why those coaches have been in Super Bowls and have their teams in the playoffs more years than not. But they don’t hold a candle to Belichick and his staff.
Making in-game adjustments is what separates the Patriots from the rest of the league. It’s so important that in a pre-game meeting with his staff before the team’s Super Bowl victory against Seattle Belichick told his staff: “This game is no different than any other one. It’s a 60-minute football game, and whatever issues we have, let’s make sure we correct them, coach them, and fix them. That’s our job.”
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wrote down seven words in blue sharpie on his play sheet before Super Bowl 49: “Adjust” “Correct problems and get them fixed.”
The Patriots beat the Seahawks with a fourth quarter rally on offense and on a defensive stand in the game’s final seconds when rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler recognized Seattle’s pick play at the goal line and stepped in front of Ricardo Lockette and came up with a heroic interception.
Because of his NFL-record five Super Bowl championships in New England, Belichick is regarded as the greatest coach of all time. Yet all five of those championships have come in very close games where making in-game adjustments have been critical.
Bill Belichick’s New England Super Bowl Appearances
Super Bowl 36: Patriots 20, Rams 17 – WIN
Super Bowl 38: Patriots 32, Panthers 29 – WIN
Super Bowl 39: Patriots 24, Eagles 21 – WIN
Super Bowl 42: Giants 17, Patriots 14 – LOSS
Super Bowl 46: Giants 21, Patriots 17 – LOSS
Super Bowl 49: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24 – WIN
Super Bowl 51: Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT) – WIN
“Game management, game decisions, adjustments, and seeing things during the game – it’s all important” is one of Bill Belichick’s famous quotes.
I don’t know about you but it seems like Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith have trouble seeing things during the game, adjusting, correcting problems and getting them fixed.
Having a great game plan heading into a game is one thing. But it’s the ability to make the in-game adjustments and properly manage the game that allows teams to win consistently.
“I think General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower put it pretty well, a battle plan is great until you actually get into the battle,” Belichick told Welch. “Then it doesn’t mean anything. That’s the way it is in football. You have a game plan and you go into the game and then you see what your opponent is doing or they make an adjustment to what you’re doing and then you have to change. So my job as a coach is to make good decisions. It’s not to block or tackle, thank God. That wouldn’t be very good. It’s to take information, calculate it, put it through some kind of process and figure out the next thing to do. That happens after the first play of the game.”
Not only have the Bucs been out-played this year, but they’ve also been out-coached. Take the Bucs’ 34-20 loss at Atlanta three weeks ago. Koetter said Tampa Bay “tried 14 different coverages” against superstar wide receiver Julio Jones and “none of them worked.”
Jones, whom Koetter and Smith had intimate knowledge of having coached in Atlanta, had a season-high 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs apparently tried to make some in-game adjustments as Jones was going off, but they made the wrong ones.
The obvious adjustment would have been to put top cornerback Brent Grimes on Jones one-on-one or to double cover him. Jones was rarely double-teamed and mostly faced off against second-year cornerback Ryan Smith.
During his Wednesday press conference the following week, Smith tried to sell the notion that the Bucs couldn’t put Grimes on Jones because they “didn’t know where he was going to line up.”
“We felt like they were going to move him around into different places. He wasn’t always at the same spot. You could possibly do that in man coverage, but you can’t do that in zone coverages because your corners always lineup outside on number one. That is a theory that works very, very well when you know where the guy is going to line up and where he is going to be. For the most part he was lined up at number one, but they did move him around in terms of where his alignments were. They would hide it by motion as well.”
I’m going to call B.S. on that one.
Smith wanted his defense to play zone, quarters specifically, and the Bucs did that a good portion of the game and it totally backfired as Jones ate Tampa Bay’s secondary alive. Grimes was not used in man coverage against Jones, but Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes was the next week in Minnesota’s 14-9 victory.
Rhodes held Jones to two catches for 24 yards and no touchdowns. Perhaps it’s because Jones was so tired from scoring all those touchdowns and getting all those yards the previous week against Tampa Bay. Maybe the fact that the Bucs defense was so bad wore Jones out.
With four games remaining I believe the Bucs have to win at least two of them in order for Koetter to have any chance of returning as head coach next year. Because of the unbelievably bad game plans on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t know what Smith can do outside of seeing his unit pitch four straight shutouts down the stretch to warrant a return to Tampa Bay next year.
The Bucs need a new coaching staff next year that has the experience, intelligence and aptitude to make much better in-game adjustments than what we’ve seen this year. Obviously Belichick is still under contract in New England and won’t be leaving anytime soon, but perhaps one of his two coordinators could help turn around the red and pewter in Tampa Bay next year. Whether it’s offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia or former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, whoever the Glazers are considering needs to have coordinators that are intelligent and can think fast on their feet when it comes to in-game adjustments.
Because I have tunnel vision on the Buccaneers I don’t have a firm grasp on the up-and-coming coordinators and position coaches around the league fit that criteria. But then again, I’m not making the next hire in Tampa Bay. That’s on the Glazers. They’ll have to correctly identify those folks and make sure that whoever replaces Koetter has the knack for making quick, wise in-game adjustments.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org