We know the secret to Bill Belichick's success.
We share it here with the pigskin public for the first time ever.
Belichick, of course, has a reputation as a mad-scientist defensive genius, a guy who sits in dark rooms with steaming beakers and Bunsen burners formulating confusing new defensive formations.
No doubt there's more than a little truth to that reputation. That little inside-out coverage between his cornerbacks and safeties, for example, never seems to fail to compel a quarterback to toss the ball to a seemingly open receiver between the sidelines and hash marks, only to have the corner jump the route and, in most cases, return the ball for a touchdown.
The normally unflappable Chad Pennington fell for it yesterday, and then watched as New England corner Asante Samuel returned it for a score and shut the door on the postseason hopes of the N.Y. Jets (who no doubt will become more formidable in the very near future under our choice for Coach of the Year
Samuel pulled off the same trick against Jacksonville in the playoffs last year, too, when Eric Mangini was defensive coordinator for the Patriots. It worked with such success that Belichick enthusiastically congratulated Mangini on the sidelines, apparently excited to find his young student had mastered one of the advanced tricks of the coaching trade.
However they do it, there's no denying the success of Belichick defenses. Three of the four stingiest defenses in New England franchise history, for example, have come on Belichick's seven-year watch (a period which has included three different defensive coordinators). His success as defensive coordinator with the N.Y. Giants, of course, has also been well-documented.
But here's the dirty little secret to Belichick's success, the secret he's never shared and nobody seems to pick up on ... except for the Cold, Hard Football Facts and, ironically, the Indianapolis Colts.
His secret is not a command of the complexities of the game. He and his coaches certainly have that command. But it's no secret.
His secret is, instead, a command of the most basic, the most brutal and the most instinctive parts of the game.
Belichick's defenders, especially his defensive backs, are taught to beat the living piss out of opposing players.
Coaches can craft all the defensive formations they want. But more often than not, the team that delivers more punishment will beat the team that delivers better pregame formulas.
Belichick knows this, even as outsiders continue to praise him as football's mad-scientist defensive genius.
Let's just look at a few examples from Belichick's history:
1986 NFC divisional playoffs
The N.Y. Giants, with Belichick as defensive coordinator, knocked Joe Montana out of the game with a concussion
when he was crushed by nose tackle Jim Burt.
Montana had completed just 8-of-15 passes for 98 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs and a 34.2 passer rating to that point. He was replaced by Jeff Kemp, who came in and continued the futility, with a 7-of-22 performance for 64 yards and an INT.
The 49ers lost, 49-3.
1990 NFC title game
The N.Y. Giants, with Belichick as defensive coordinator, again knocked Montana out of a postseason game.
Late in the game, Leonard Marshall crushed Montana, slamming him to the ground and effectively ending his career in San Francisco. Montana would miss the entire 1991 season and most of the 1992 season before resurfacing in Kansas City.
It was Montana's final play in three miserable postseason appearances against Belichick and the Giants. Montana is perhaps the greatest playoff quarterback of all time – his 95.6 postseason passer rating is second only to Bart Starr's 104.8 in NFL history.
But his dynastic 49ers offense scored a total of just 19 points in those three games. He posted passer ratings of 65.6, 34.2 and 103.0 before his career was almost ruined by a nasty Belichick defense intent on meting out punishment.
Super Bowl XXV
One week later, the Giants beat the Buffalo Bills and their high-powered "K-Gun" offense, 20-19.
Belichick's game plan from that performance literally sits today in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Buffalo's Pro Bowl wide receiver, Andre Reed, gave us perhaps the greatest insight into why it worked: He said after the Super Bowl that he had never been hit so hard in his life.
Super Bowl XXXVI
The Patriots, with Belichick as head coach, beat the St. Louis Rams and their "Greatest Show on Turf" offense, 20-17.
New England's defensive backs brutalized the fleet-footed St. Louis receivers, while the linebackers and linemen chipped in to maul superstar running back Marshall Faulk, "hitting them when they had the ball," as NFL Films reported, "and hitting them when they did not."
It may have been the highlight of Belichick's coaching career, pulling off a huge upset against one of the great offenses in NFL history. At the end of the day, the Patriots won because they out-hit the opposition.
2003 AFC title game
The Patriots, with Belichick as head coach, humiliated the Indy Colts and their high-powered offense with a 24-14 victory.
Indy's receivers were beat up so badly in that game that the organization complained to the NFL afterward. The Colts forced the league to redefine the rules to make it easier for receivers to get open and more difficult for defenders to man up against them.
The Colts, of course, were well aware of Belichick's secret weapon: blatant brutality in a game defined by it.
Their complaints were essentially an effort to neuter Belichick and deny him his secret gridiron cudgel.
It's hasn't worked, of course. New England beat the Colts the following year in the playoffs, too, with an even greater defensive effort: a 20-3 victory over an offense that had scored 522 points in the regular season.
New England's defense continues to play well, in other words, because it continues to physically brutalize many of its opponents.
Doesn't take a mad scientist to come up with that strategy. Just a guy who understands football.