Rams celebrate touchdown vs Patriots

Sean McVay showed everyone how to beat a Bill Belichick defense

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Bill Belichick’s defenses can be beaten, and it’s easier than you think. Sean McVay showed everybody how to do it when his Los Angeles Rams thumped Belichick’s New England Patriots 24-3 on Thursday to begin Week 14.

Truth be told McVay didn’t exactly show the NFL how to beat a Belichick defense. More accurately, he reminded viewers how it’s done.

The key to beating a Belichick defense is a two-tight end offense. It’s the same set the Shanahans have used to give Belichick problems down the years, with both Mike and Kyle getting the better of the hoodie.

Kyle Shanahan’s injury-hit San Francisco 49ers thumped the Pats 33-6 in New England back in Week 7. The Niners amassed 197 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, largely running behind tight ends George Kittle and Ross Dwelley.

McVay obviously took note of how easily his NFC West rivals dismantled the Belichick blueprint. The Rams gave the Patriots the same heavy dose of two tight ends.

Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett spent the majority of the game on the field together. Higbee played 55 snaps, while Everett clocked 53, according to Pro Football Reference. Those numbers represented 87 percent and 84 percent, respectively, of the Rams’ total offensive snaps on the night.


McVay had the right personnel package to keep Belichick’s defenders on their heels:

Extra blockers allowed L.A. to dominate the line of scrimmage. New England’s front seven was overwhelmed and unable to prevent rookie running back Cam Akers from hitting his stride.

Akers hit top gear as early as the game’s second play. He ripped off 35 yards running behind blocks from Everett and Higbee:

The play summed up why the Rams’ approached worked so well. Two tight ends work against a Belichick defense because he rarely puts eight men in the box.

Take a look at the Patriots’ pre-snap. They were in a pretty standard 3-4 alignment. Belichick likes to use seven so he can keep two safeties deep and show a Cover 2 shell.

It’s an excellent look for disguising coverages, depending on what the safeties do after the ball is snapped. A two-deep shell also gives the Pats’ cornerbacks the luxury of playing man coverage underneath, knowing there is help over the top.

Belichick’s used this formula for years, ever since his days running Bill Parcells’ defenses for the New York Giants. Those units rarely needed an eighth man in the box because the front seven was so big.


Who needs a box safety with Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, Leonard Marshall, and Jim Burt along the first line of defense?

Belichick has also made a planet-sized front seven his calling card in New England. But these aren’t the days of Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork. There isn’t even a Malcom Brown or Danny Shelton around to be the big man in the middle.

Dont’a Hightower opting out of the 2020 season because of concerns regarding the Covid-19 pandemic took away another presence in the middle. Hightower is the classic Belichick linebacker, a hulking thumper who takes on guards wrecks a running game.

New England doesn’t have the mass nor talent to boss the trenches anymore. Belichick is still trying though.

Lawrence Guy is a 315-pound D-tackle who can be formidable inside. Middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley brings his 255 pounds to bear in the running game. They are good players, they’re just not Wilfork or Hightower.

Neither Bentley nor Guy were able to make an impact against the Rams because McVay wisely had Akers attack the edges. Remember, the size and strength of a Belichick defense is always in the middle, so the Rams simply ran away from it.

Akers thrived on zone-stretch runs, another staple of the Shanahan playbook.

McVay made sure his team won the numbers battle on the outside. Wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp frequently stacked to the two-tight end side of the formation.

It meant the Rams often had four-on-2 matchups on the edges. There were obvious lanes for Akers to exploit, but his vision, patience and speed off of a single cut turned many solid runs into big gains.

By the end of the night, Akers had established a record against a Belichick-coached defense:

The Rams were able to erase some of the pain from their loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, the night Belichick’s D’ held McVay’s offense to just three points.

New England created six-man lines and took away the threat of Todd Gurley on the ground. The Patriots also blitzed Jared Goff relentlessly.

McVay played into the trap because he stuck with the three-receiver sets he’d used throughout the 2018 season. He didn’t use tight ends as often. Higbee played 35 snaps, Everett 44.

Tight ends have often been mismatches in the passing game against a Belichick defense. He trusts his big linebackers to jam any in-breaking receivers. Those linebackers are bruisers against the run, but they’re no match for an athletic tight end and some double moves.

Goff didn’t complete a pass to either tight end in the Super Bowl but zeroed in on his outside receivers. Stephon Gilmore locked up Brandin Cooks, allowing New England to double Woods.

McVay trusted a cuter gameplan on Thursday. He used the threat of Woods and Kupp to keep coverage deep, while Akers, Higbee, and Everett bullied undermanned fronts.

Belichick wouldn’t leave the box light against teams who don’t put receivers as good as Woods and Kupp on the field. But offenses with the balance of a credible passing attack need only show the threat, load the line with two tight ends and run to daylight to beat a Belichick defense.

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