Bucky Brooks of NFL.com is out with an excellent piece breaking down five things the rest of the NFL should learn from the once-again Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Let’s look at those five things and see how they apply to the New York Giants.
1) Focus on each player’s best traits.
Brooks points to a number of players on the New England roster, especially wide receiver/running back kick returner Cordarelle Patterson and left tackle Trent Brown. Brooks, however, also lists a number of other useful players acquired by the Patriots.
The Patriots spotted a few positive traits in all of these players and put them in positions to contribute when they were needed. Sure, it took each guy buying into the team’s approach and embracing his role, but it is hard to dispute the results when all of the aforementioned players made some plays that helped bring another Lombardi Trophy to Foxborough.
Valentine’s View: This has long been something I have thought the Patriots do better than anyone. They focus on what players can do to add value to their team, rather than what they can’t do as reasons to keep them off the field.
A coach’s primary job is to put his players — and by extension his team — in the best possible position to succeed. You do that by figuring out what your players — all of your players — can do to help you and finding ways to use it.
For the Giants, this might mean taking a hard look at whether using Evan Engram inline on 50.4 percent of his snaps, as they did in 2018, is the right thing to do. It might mean taking a hard look at whether using Sterling Shepard outside is maximizing his ability. HINT: It’s not.
It means trying to uncover more players like Corey Coleman, rejected by other teams but a revelation for the Giants returning kickoffs. It means, after a year of James Bettcher getting to know his players, making sure players are being used in the right roles.
2) Build a roster that features a number of versatile players.
In NFL meeting rooms, coaches frequently tell players something along the lines of, ”The more roles you can fill, the better chance you have of making the squad.” When you look at the composition of the Patriots’ roster, it’s clear New England’s decision-makers buy into that mantra. Players are expected to play more than their primary positions -- and the ability to thrive in a variety of roles enhances a guy’s chances to fill a key role on game day. ...
New England’s preference for versatility doesn’t always result in a player manning multiple positions on game day, but it is about possessing a variety of skills that enable coaches to use you in a variety of ways.
Valentine’s View: I do think this is something the Giants are trying to accomplish. Pat Shurmur likes multi-skilled running backs, and even the move at fullback from Shane Smith to the more well-rounded Elijhaa Penny shows that. Giants wide receivers move around and function in a variety of roles. It’s not easy, though. Finding defensive backs with the skills to play multiple spots, linebackers with an array of skills and defensive linemen useful against both the run and pass takes time.
3) Place greater value on intelligence than athleticism.
During my scouting days, the Patriots were one of the franchises that placed significant emphasis on acquiring college graduates and former team captains on draft day. The thought behind the strategy was to add as many smart, tough-minded players to the roster as possible, because it enabled the coaches to put more on their plate when it came to learning schemes and responsibilities.
Now, there isn’t a documented correlation between book smarts and football intelligence, but it is sensible to believe great students in the classroom will be able to take information dispensed by coaches and routinely apply it to the field. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to read in Peter King’s postgame columnthat the Patriots were able to execute plays on the game-winning drive that weren’t included in the Super Bowl LIII game plan or practiced in the weeks leading up to the game. It takes a group of high-IQ players to process and flawlessly execute an in-game adjustment without having practice reps to commit it to memory. The Patriots’ collective intelligence gave McDaniels enough confidence to make a radical change on the fly and it ultimately helped the team win another title. ...
Reflecting on the Patriots’ success over the past two decades, the attention to detail and the flawless execution of situational football speak to their intelligence, which is one of the traits the team covets in each of its players.
Valentine’s View: I love this one, and I think the Patriots have proven how critical it is. Reality is, if guys have reached the NFL they are great athletes. All of them. Well, maybe aside from some of the kickers. If you’re a kicker and you’re reading, sorry. And if you’re Aldrick Rosas, I’ve seen the size of your biceps. I don’t mean you.
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse or go back over ancient history here, but I kind of need to. This is one of the areas where I thought former GM Jerry Reese lost his way. It just seemed like Reese drafted a lot of players over the years based on their athleticism, based on what they looked like and measured like rather than what they played like.
Reese got away with that when drafting the back-flipping Jason Pierre-Paul. It backfired drafting guys like Rueben Randle, Andre Williams, Owa Odighizuwa, James Brewer and others.
There are rare athletes like Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley. What separates the successful players from the unsuccessful ones at the NFL level, though, is often what is in between their ears and in their hearts. Can they learn and apply information? Can they study properly? Can they read and react quickly to what is happening on the field?
That is a lot more important than how fast they run, how high they jump, or what they look like with their shirt off.
4) Toughness matters.
Football is a hard game played by ultra-competitive people, but champions exhibit a level of mental and physical toughness that sets them apart from the crowd. The Patriots demand this -- look no further than how Patrick Chung responded to his injury in Super Bowl LIII.
The veteran safety was sidelined with a broken arm early in the third quarter, but refused the cart, instead walking off the field with his arm in an air cast. A bit later, he returned to the sidelines to support his team. The scene reminded me of watching Rodney Harrison suffering a broken arm in Super Bowl XXXVIII against my Carolina Panthers. Like Chung, Harrison was unable to finish the game, but returned to the sidelines to cheer on his teammates as the wise leader. I don’t believe the similarities here are a coincidence, based on how Belichick and Co. value physical and mental toughness. ...
I believe the Patriots purposely target players who’ve experienced a little adversity or display the necessary toughness (mental and physical). Just look at how Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and others jump up after big hits or repeatedly return to the action following injuries. Their perseverance sets the tone for the Patriots -- and that’s a direct reflection of the coach and the team’s culture.
Valentine’s View: Along with intelligence, this is another thing that is ultra-important and separates successful players and teams from unsuccessful ones. I think both GM Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur understand that trait, and value it. Witness a couple of the quotes used in Sunday’s post on the type of quarterback the Giants might be seeking to be the heir to Eli Manning.
“I admire that. That’s really the most important thing, toughness and grit. You can be smart, you can be well-dressed, you can be well-spoken, but at the end of the day and it’s absolutely demanded in our sport, is your ability to be tough and gritty. Those are the attributes in people and especially in football players that is an absolute necessity in our business.”
“There’s two kinds of players in this league, folks. There are guys that play professional football and there are professional football players,” Gettleman said. “And the professional football players are the guys we want. I don’t want guys that want to win. I want guys that hate to lose. That’s the professional football player. That’s what you want. So, it’s important.”
Again, it takes time to find those players and populate your roster with them.
5) It’s always about the team.
The term “The Patriot Way” elicits eye rolls from some NFL executives, but there’s no denying that the franchise’s culture under Belichick has produced outstanding results. New England has claimed six Lombardi Trophies in nine tries over the past 18 seasons -- and the team-first premise remains the common denominator in this run. The Pats aren’t a star-driven outfit and their balanced approach to economics is one of the reasons why they’ve been able to sustain such unprecedented success.
The Patriots don’t overpay for players. They just scout, and probably teach, better than everyone else. It’s how they replace Nate Solder with Trent Brown. It’s how they let the Giants pay for Shane Vereen and easily replace him. They do that over and over and over.
There are no “me-first” or “look at me” guys on the Patriots. It’s about winning, and if you don’t buy in to doing whatever that takes then you don’t stay. No matter how talented.