January 13, 2007
Patriots Look To Their Genius Once Again
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
SAN DIEGO -- Charger fans still think Marty Schottenheimer will get their team to the Promised Land.
Patriot fans think that Charger fans will wish Bill Belichick were their coach, if the visitors come into Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday and do what they do.
If you take the time and listen to former Patriot free safety Tim Fox when he appears on NESN's SportsPlus, you will find out that he harbors lots of ill will towards two prominent (one now former) head coaches. One is Bill Cowher. The other is Schottenheimer. Fox is acquainted with both and can't stand either man.
Since joining the Patriots in 2000, Belichick is 2-1 in road playoff games. Both wins were against Cowher. In both games, the Steelers had a huge advantage over the Patriots on paper. In both games, the Patriots shocked both the players and the home crowd by winning and advancing to Super Bowls. The only road playoff loss by Belichick was last year at Denver.
On Sunday, Belichick gets to lock horns with Schottenheimer, with whom he is 3-3 lifetime in regular season matchups as head coach (2-1 with Cleveland, 1-2 with New England), the other half of Fox's (seemingly) weekly ill will. Fox is already torqued off at Marty, who has already thrown offensive coordinator Cam Cameron under the bus if San Diego should lose on Sunday. Cameron has been San Diego's saving grace this season, as he has been calling the offensive plays for the Chargers instead of Schottenheimer.
Cameron calls the plays for the offense. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips does the same for the defense. So what does Schottenheimer do?
Well, let's see. Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, administrate. This appears that all Schottenheimer is doing is administrating. It's just not clear as to what it is he is administrating. Ron Borges of the Globe made a recent comment about Schottenheimer, saying that "So what does Schottenheimer do? If he's smart not much, because left to his own devices he's 5-12 as a playoff coach, including losing three times when his team was the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, as it is this year."
Does this mean that Cameron and Phillips are also doing the game plan? And all Schottenheimer does is climb some tower, look like Bear Bryant or Tom Landry, and give the team that comforting feeling that "he's there, watching over us"? To keep himself busy (or to give that impression), maybe he makes like Leona Helmsley and walks all around the practice field, shouting out things like "Who is that player standing there? Do we pay him all this money for just standing there? Does he actually have a function with this team?"
All facetiousness aside, it can be stated that the Chargers have benefited greatly with Cameron calling the shots on offense and not Schottenheimer. It is extraordinary that Schottenheimer has been so self-deprecating that he himself thinks Cameron is better at calling plays that he is. Try to think of the last time you have heard a head coach as contrite and as submissive as Schottenheimer is.
Now do you see why Tom Brady took such exception to Schottenheimer's postgame comments after last year's 41-17 loss to San Diego at Foxborough? Even though Schottenheimer was trying to be nice and qualify the Patriot loss as being related to several key players lost to injury, Brady basically told Schottenheimer to keep his mouth shut and don't comment on his team, especially given that the Patriots are much better at winning championships than Schottenheimer has ever been.
When you delve into Schottenheimer's coaching past, and try to make comparisons to Belichick, you treasure every day that Belichick is your favorite team's head coach. Schottenheimer has the most wins of any head coach in NFL history to have never coached in a Super Bowl. He is to the NFL what Gene Mauch was to baseball, though that may be a little harsh on Mauch.
On the one hand, you have a Cleveland Browns team at home who could not hold a seven point lead against Denver (this was John Elway's famous "The Drive" game, and who's to say it wasn't bad defense rather than Elway which lost that game for Cleveland?). You have two strong Kansas City teams who were the one seed in the 1990s, who fell meekly at home to Indianapolis (1995) and Denver (1997). You also have a San Diego team in 2004 who fell at home to an inferior Jets team thanks to game mismanagement. On the other hand, you have a head coach with a defensive game plan in the Hall of Fame, a Super Bowl win as a 14-point underdog over one of the best offensive teams in NFL history, and two more Super Bowl wins which resulted in the defeats of six incredibly tough playoff opponents along the way.
Sunday's game in and of itself is simple. San Diego has the better team on paper, far and away. The Patriots have advantages at quarterback, wide receiver and secondary. But the Chargers have some of the league's best players at various key positions. If this game were played on PlayStation 2 or XBox, whoever has San Diego would probably win ninety percent of the games.
This is where Belichick will come forward as the key ingredient to a Patriot win. The real key to the game will be how well the Patriots handle LaDainian Tomlinson. Everything that follows will trace its way back to this one element, and that includes how well the Patriots defense tight end Antonio Gates. It will be Belichick who comes up with the master plan as to how to get this done.
What that master plan will be has been the subject of much postulation by most every local and national football expert. Spread out the defensive line and funnel LT up the middle. Play Chad Scott at safety and have him shadow LT. Chip LT like they did Marshall Faulk in Super Bowl XXXVI.
The reality is that Belichick will come up with something that no one can possibly predict. Belichick is known for his exotic schemes (anyone out there remember the famous 1-6-4 defense?) which can be tailored to specific situations, and Belichick will have come up with just the right mix to do what the Patriots need to do to hold down the San Diego offense and give Brady a chance to keep the Patriots in a position to snitch a win. Trying to guess what that scheme (or schemes) will be is really a waste of time, but it is imperative that any game plan to defeat San Diego begins and ends with how the Patriots handle Tomlinson.
The Patriot players can and will do the rest. Shawne Merriman, the San Diego equivalent of Keith Bulluck, has already done his part to hamper the Charger team by shooting his mouth off, predicting a Jet win on CBS last Sunday and guaranteeing a Charger win during the week in the papers. If the Patriot players need any injection of energy (as opposed to injections of steroids, which Mr. Merriman prefers) which would be needed to help stave off fierce Charger pass rushers, Merriman has given it to them. Brady knows better than any quarterback in the league today how to win in the postseason, and as long as he doesn't play like he did last January in Denver, he should outplay rookie Philip Rivers and add to his glittering postseason resume.
With any other head coach, the Patriots are looking at a long afternoon in Mission Valley, one like what the 1963 team experienced over at San Diego High 43 Januaries ago. But Belichick's coaching genius, the staple of life in Patriot Nation, will turn out to be the decisive factor in Sunday's Divisional Playoff game. San Diego will throw the kitchen sink at the Patriots, but Belichick will be the Chargers' garbage disposal.
And Brady won't say a thing regarding Schottenheimer, but he should. If he did say anything, it might be something like "Keep on keeping your mouth shut and pray that Dean Spanos isn't knocking on your door tomorrow with a pink slip!"
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