Football is the ultimate chess match, right? And over the last six days, we’ve analyzed the rooks, the knights, the bishops, the queens, the kings and even the pawns that will be in play on Super Bowl Sunday. All that’s left is a last look at the brainiacs in control of those pieces. Here’s a look at the key coaches and coordinators on both sides.
Patriots: Bill Belichick — The five-time Super Bowl champion has earned three rings as a head coach and two as a coordinator, so a victory next Sunday would only bolster Belichick’s sparkling, Hall of Fame-worthy reputation as a mastermind coach. Always one to think outside the box, Belichick undoubtedly has a unique trick or two up his sleeve for how to dodge New York’s high-powered pass rush as well as how to defend the Giants’ dangerous group of receivers.
Giants: Tom Coughlin — He’s got Belichick’s number, having beaten the perfect Pats in Super Bowl XLII and then again in Foxborough this year. He’s won seven of his last eight playoff games dating back to 2007 and he hasn’t had a losing season since his first year in New York, 2004. Let’s face it: Coughlin’s been an underrated coach throughout his career, dating back to when he brought the expansion Jaguars to the playoffs in four of their first five seasons in the NFL.
Fun fact: Belichick and Coughlin coached together under Bill Parcells’ Giants from 1988 to 1990. In New York, where Belichick was defensive coordinator and Coughlin was in charge of the wide receivers, the two gained workhorse reputations. After Scott Norwood handed them the Super Bowl in ‘90, Belichick was hired to coach the Browns, Coughlin left to coach Boston College and Parcells retired (for the first time).
The two are so similar in terms of mentality and persona — and considering each of their circumstances over the years, Coughlin might be closer to Belichick territory than many of us would assume.
Patriots: Bill O’Brien & Josh McDaniels — I include McDaniels here because he’s likely just as involved in game-planning as O’Brien is. McDaniels was brought back to New England only three weeks ago after failed stints as head coach and offensive coordinator in Denver and St. Louis. But he’s expected to take over officially again in Foxborough as soon as O’Brien departs for Penn State after the Super Bowl. The offensive-minded duo worked closely together in 2007 and 2008, when O’Brien was an assistant and McDaniels ran the offense. Here was Belichick’s take on the situation earlier this week:
“It’s good to have Josh here. Josh has a lot of experience. He knows our players, he knows our system. Billy and Josh work together. Josh and I work together. Dante [Scarnecchia, OL coach], Ivan [Fears, RB coach], so there is a lot of background and history there that has pretty quickly, I think, come together and come up to speed. Everybody has their roles the roles they’ve had and Josh has just added a little bit more to that by his presence.
“But it hasn’t taken away from anything that everybody else has been doing. It’s just added to it.”
Giants: Kevin Gilbride — The Coughlin-Gilbride tandem got their start together in 1995 in Jacksonville, and they’ve been together throughout Coughlin’s time in New York. Gilbride might be remembered best for a miserable 6-16 stint as head coach of the Chargers, whatever role he may have played in the Ryan Leaf debacle and taking a sideline punch from Buddy Ryan, but he’s also experienced immense success running offenses in Houston, Jacksonville and New York.
The Giants have been ranked in the top 10 in total offense each of the last four seasons with Gilbride in charge. The year before that, they beat the Pats in the Super Bowl. And when you look at the turnover and Eli Manning’s lack of consistency, that’s pretty damn impressive.
Comparing the offenses (regular-season stats)
Pats: 32.1 PPG, 428.1 YPG, 6.3 YPP, 46% 3rd downs, 17 turnovers
Giants: 24.6 PPG, 385.1 YPG, 6.0 YPP, 37% 3rd downs, 24 turnovers
Patriots: Matt Patricia — Belichick hasn’t entrusted anyone enough to give them the actual defensive coordinator title since Dean Pees left in 2009, but Patricia is the de facto man in charge right now. He’s been on the staff since 2004, and his official title is safeties coach. For all intents and purposes, Belichick runs this defense. Nothing happens with this unit that doesn’t go through the head coach.
And maybe that’s not such a great thing, because New England’s defense has ranked in the bottom 10 in the league each of the last two seasons and hasn’t cracked the top 10 since 2008. It’s just odd that Belichick surrounds himself with inexperienced, young defensive coaches such as Patricia, defensive backs coach Josh Boyer and linebackers coach Patrick Graham, although veteran assistant Pepper Johnson is clearly his right-hand man.
Keep in mind that Belichick has never won a Super Bowl — as a head coach or as a defensive coordinator — without the help of Romeo Crennel, who ran his defense as an actual coordinator in 2001, 2003 and 2004 and coached special teams and the defensive line when the Giants won in 1986 and 1990.
Giants: Perry Fewell — It’s difficult to gauge how much of New York’s defensive success has had to do with Fewell. After all, it’s not like all of those sacks are coming from fancy disguises and unstoppable blitzes. It’s just pure talent on that defensive line, and that has little to do with Fewell. That said, give him credit for not messing with what Steve Spagnuolo passed on to him (Bill Sheridan was a wildly unsuccessful stopgap) and employing the wicked “four aces” front as often as possible on passing downs.
And after giving up 427 total points in 2009 with Sheridan running the show, the Giants surrendered just 347 in 2010 and 400 in 2011 under Fewell. Not bad when you consider the injuries they’ve had and the pieces Fewell’s had to work with on the back end. Still, it’s a far cry from the glory days that reached both their peak and conclusion in 2008, when they gave up only 294 points.
Comparing the defenses (regular-season stats)
Pats: 21.4 PPG, 411.1 YPG, 6.2 YPP, 43% 3rd downs, 34 takeaways
Giants: 25.0 PPG, 376.4 YPG, 5.6 YPP, 38% 3rd downs, 31 takeaways
The Edge: Patriots.