Two of the greatest defensive game plans in NFL history have come from Bill Belichick. To have a chance to win on Sunday night, he may have to dust it off.
In Super Bowl XXV, Belichick served as the Giants’ defensive coordinator. He persuaded a reluctant group of defensive players, led by Lawrence Taylor, to buy in to a strategy that invited ample running by the K-Gun offense. Belichick told them that if Thurman Thomas gains 100 or more yards, the Giants will win. He did, and they did.
In Super Bowl XXXVI, Belichick dropped extra men into coverage, in order to neutralize the high-octane St. Louis passing game. He dared coach Mike Martz to run the ball with Marshall Faulk. Martz didn’t. New England stunned the Rams.
So on Sunday night, will Belichick use six, seven, or even eight defensive back against Tom Brady? The Bucs don’t run the ball very well, so force them to do it. It’s Belichick’s time-honored strategy. Take away what the opposing offense does best.
The Pats would have to complement a slow-it-down approach on defense with a clock-grinding offensive game plan. Limit the possessions. Keep Brady on the sidelines. Put together long, sustained drives.
Even then, the Patriots may need to hope for a Norwoodesque wide right or a Vinatierian down-the-middle three-pointer to seal the deal. But the home team’s best approach will be to try to keep it close. As in Super Bowl XXV and XXXVI, keeping it close will mean keeping the opposing quarterback from carving up the defense.