Opinion: Super Bowl LIII was more proof Bill Belichick never needed Tom Brady to win a ring

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Opinion: Super Bowl LIII was more proof Bill Belichick never needed Tom Brady to win a ring

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Bill Belichick did it again. On football’s biggest stage, he shut down a supposedly unstoppable offense, holding Sean McVay’s Rams to three points and 262 yards of offense in a 13-3 win in Super Bowl 53.

As expected, the defensive gameplan Belichick crafted over these last two weeks was full of ingenious tactics that forced the Rams offense out of its comfort zone.

The Patriots offense didn’t fare any better. Tom Brady wasn’t Tom Brady. He wasn’t even the lesser version of himself that we’ve seen more than a few times this season. Outside of one great drive — which resulted in the Patriots’ only touchdown — Brady was poor and his play is the reason the Rams were able to stay in the game for as long as they did.

It didn’t matter. Four points would have been enough for New England’s defense.

Belichick did what he’s always done: He took away what the Rams did best. McVay’s offense is built around the outside zone, so Belichick designed a rarely used front to stop those runs. The Pats lined up with four defensive linemen with two edge defenders flanking the line, creating a six-man front. That forced McVay to call more inside zone, which necessitated more snaps for C.J. Anderson, who is better on those runs. So Belichick was able to take away what the Rams do best while, in turn, keeping their best offensive player on the sideline.

The game fell on Goff, which was surely Belichick’s aim when putting together the plan, and the third-year quarterback wasn’t up to the task. The young signal-caller was frustrated by the Patriots intricate coverage disguises and blitz designs.

Belichick had been playing man coverage throughout the playoffs — they didn’t call a zone coverage until the third quarter of the AFC title game — but mixed in more zone coverages perfectly designed to take away the Rams’ top passing concepts. The curveball flummoxed Goff. He missed open receivers all game long, failed to diagnose blitzed and never looked comfortable. Patriots players told NFL Network’s Mike Giardi that their gameplan would make Goff s–t his pants … they weren’t wrong.

Belichick was never forced to adjust. Well, not until Patrick Chung left the game with 14:04 in the third quarter. Belichick’s solution was unorthodox. After matching the Rams’ 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) sets with a nickel defense while Chung was on the field, the Patriots went with their base defense (four defensive linemen, three linebackers, four defensive backs) but, instead of replacing Chung with a reserve safety, he went with a third cornerback. That allowed the Pats to stay with that six-man surface while still being able to match-up with L.A.’s three receivers with corners.

That Belichick managed to pull this off against the NFL’s next offensive genius is significant. A coach who started his career in the ’70s just completely out-classed a guy who is supposedly on the cutting edge of football strategy, which McVay admitted after the game. And this was no fluke. In two matchups against McVay — the first coming during the 2015 season — Belichick’s defenses have surrendered 13 points with the only touchdown coming on a garbage-time drive.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen McVay’s offense stymied. The Eagles and Bears defense have given the Rams trouble, but those units were stocked with Pro-Bowl talent. This Patriots defense is not. Stephon Gilmore was the unit’s lone Pro Bowler. In fact, New England became only the second franchise to win a Super Bowl with two or fewer Pro Bowl players.

Belichick truthers — there are still a few of them out there — will point to the fact that he has yet to win a Super Bowl without Tom Brady as his quarterback. But Brady did not play like the greatest quarterback of all-time. Belichick didn’t need him to. Just like he didn’t need him to when the Pats won their first Lombardi back in 2002. Or when, as the Giants defensive coordinator, he helped New York upset the Bills with a brilliant gameplan that now sits in the Hall of Fame.

Belichick has never needed elite quarterback play to win a championship. The 2018 season — which may have been his greatest coaching job to date — was just more proof of that.

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