Hannable: How Patriots overcame lack of talent to win Super Bowl

Ryan Hannable
February 06, 2019 - 12:39 pm

Everyone can agree the Patriots were not the most talented team in the NFL this season.

Their final two wins came against teams that certainly had more talent than they did. Kansas City had the league MVP in Patrick Mahomes and the No. 1 ranked offense, and then Los Angeles had the No. 2 offense and a ferocious defense on top of that.

But, the Patriots still were able to beat those teams on the way to winning Super Bowl LIII, the sixth in team history.

How were they able to do it?

No. 1, it started with coaching. 

From top to bottom there’s no question the Patriots had the best coaching staff in the entire league. It isn’t just Bill Belichick, either. De facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores devised a gameplan that delivered arguably the best defensive performance in Super Bowl history, holding the Rams to three points, the lowest ever by a team in the Super Bowl. It also came following the shut out of the Chiefs in the first half of the AFC title game.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels also deserves a ton of credit. His ability to adapt every week to not only the players he had on his side, but also who he was going up defensively is something no one else in the league can do. It’s hard to imagine another offensive coordinator in the league being able to average 27 points a game with what he was working with on a week-to-week basis.

“Can’t say enough about them, the coaching staff, Brian Flores and Josh McDaniels, Jerry [Schuplinski] and all the rest of the staff,” Belichick said after the game. “Certainly their conditioning helps us prepare. The strength and conditioning staff, they all did a great job. It was a great team win and just extremely proud of everybody and obviously couldn’t do it without all of them.”

No coaching staff works harder in the NFL than the Patriots, and they are a major reason why they were able to win their sixth Super Bowl.

Then, as Belichick says, the players are the ones who deserve the credit because they are the ones who make the plays on the field.

The team certainly wasn’t as talented as most Super Bowl teams — only one first-team All-Pro member (Stephon Gilmore) and two Pro Bowlers (Gilmore and Tom Brady) — but they still found a way to get the job done against the NFL’s best.

A lot of that had to do with what kind of players the team had. The vast majority of the roster were team-first players, who were willing to do whatever it took to help the team. One week they could have played two snaps, the next week they could played 50 snaps -- it didn't matter to them, as long as the team won.

“We don't have stars, we have elite football players. That's what we have,” Kyle Van Noy said after Super Bowl LIII.

Another key trait of Patriots players was versatility, especially on defense.

Almost every single player on the unit could have multiple roles. Just look at Van Noy for example. One play he could rush the passer, the next he could make a run stop and then on another play he could drop back into coverage. This helped the unit do a number of different things, which ultimately confused opposing quarterbacks, like we saw Sunday night with Jared Goff and also Mahomes two weeks earlier.

Director of player personnel Nick Caserio deserves credit for finding these players. 

He, along with Belichick, know which players are the best fits for the system and they go out and find them. Caserio being at practice almost every day goes a long way in knowing what to look for, and then he goes out and gets them.

For example, John Simon, Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber were all in-season additions, and all three contributed along the way in some shape or form.

“I think it’s great just to observe the team and you’re listening more than talking,” Caserio said last week. “You’re trying to take the information and if it is something you can articulate to the staff with a real life example so when you’re talking about a player you can say well, ‘OK, this is important and here is an example why.’ I think it helps the flow of information from our coaching staff to our staff so the fact they have enough confidence around the player and the team. 

“I try and stay in the background and out of the way and really listen more than anything else and observe. If there is something that I pick up and it helps us overall then it is worth while.”
The 2018 Patriots were a perfect example of why games are not played on paper. In position-by-position matchups, the Patriots likely would have lost both the AFC title game and the Super Bowl, but because of all their intangibles, including the coaching staff, they were able to hoist their sixth Lombardi trophy.

Talent alone isn't good enough to win in the NFL. Want proof?

Just ask the Chiefs and Rams.

Related: How 'Inside the NFL's' crisp camera work and mic'd up sound makes you appreciate Edelman's Super Bowl performance even more