With the NFL showdown of the year approaching, I asked some NFL executives which traits from the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots have other organizations tried to emulate. Here are some of the key ideas that have started to filter throughout the NFL.
The no-huddle has been used by other teams in the past, but not with the success or consistency exhibited by the Colts. With Peyton Manning directing the up-tempo attack, the Colts have finished in the top five in total offense the past five years. And the sustained run of offensive success has led others to incorporate the no-huddle into their regular game plan. The Cincinnati Bengals closely copied the Colts' no-huddle approach a few years ago and now use it extensively with Carson Palmer at the helm.
The Patriots have placed a premium on acquiring players who have a history of playing other positions on defense -- Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, AdaliusThomas and Richard Seymour. BillBelichick is able to use creative schemes and personnel packages to take advantage of their versatility. As a result, the Patriots are one of the few teams able to seamlessly transition from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense in the middle of games. This creates a huge defensive advantage. Other teams are attempting to duplicate the Patriots' personnel flexibility. The Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers">49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens are a few that have multi-positional players in key spots on defense.
The Colts won the Super Bowl title behind the unheralded tandem of JosephAddai and Dominic Rhodes. The reliance on the duo was a departure from their previous approach of having a star, Edgerrin James, shoulder the workload. The Patriots have also had a lot of success with unheralded running backs, like Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk.
The success of the Colts' Dwight Freeney (60 career sacks) and Robert Mathis (37.5) has been eye-opening. Both were labeled undersized by pro standards. But their success has paved the way for teams to take chances on other undersized defensive ends. Tamba Hali, Elvis Dumervil and Darryl Tapp are a few of the undersized pass rushers who have had success the last two years.
Indianapolis has always taken advantage of the versatility of the tight end/H-back position. As one of the first teams in recent history to substitute the fullback with a second tight end/H-Back, the Colts have used the double tight end set to keep defenses on their heels. Starting with the combination of Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard several years ago, the Colts utilized their tight ends to open up the field for their receivers. Others have taken notice and incorporated more multiple tight end sets into their normal game plan.
Indy has done a phenomenal job of drafting and developing its own talent. Each of its 22 starters were drafted or signed as college free agents. The Colts' ability to groom them in their system has allowed them to effectively handle the loss of several starters during free agency in recent years.
The Patriots do an outstanding job of tailoring the scheme to the strengths of their roster. And their willingness to be flexible allows them to get maximum production out of all of their players. By having its players do things that are in line with their physical tools, New England gives them a great chance to succeed. This is why they are still able to get solid production from Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison despite their age. At a time when most coaches are striving to enhance their reputations by creating elaborate schemes, the Patriots have focused on designing their system around the talents of their players.
New England's success dealing with malcontents (Corey Dillon and RandyMoss) shows the impact a strong locker room can have on a character guy. A locker room full of ultra-competitive, hard-working guys can get a a player with a questionable history to buy into a team-first mentality. The Patriots have established their way of doing business and the success they've had with their approach makes it an easy sell to all players who walk into the locker room. Ultimately, all players want to win at the highest level and the allure of being part of a championship team makes them leave their previous issues at the door.
Both teams have used this model to build top-ranked offensive lines. By focusing on chemistry and continuity, the Colts and Patriots have performed better than their individual talent would suggest. Between the two teams' offensive lines, only Jeff Saturday has been recognized as a Pro Bowl performer. And he anchors a line that has given up only five sacks. The Patriots' line has only surrendered eight sacks and consists of one first-round pick (Logan Mankins) surrounded by a mixture of mid-to late draft picks and an undrafted free agent.