The master vs. the pupil is always the popular storyline when two longtime coaches off against one another in the NFL. For New England Patriots head honcho Bill Belichick and Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, this is a familiar refrain.
The two were joined at the hip in Foxboro for season after season as head coach and offensive coordinator and this Sunday afternoon, the pair will stand on opposite sidelines. Belichick in probably his patented tattered hoodie, McDaniels in his Silver & Black hoodie with long white sleeve underneath. The familiarity certainly runs deep.
“I got to see firsthand how to try to do it the right way,” McDaniels said when asked of Belichick’s influence. “His philosophy on everything; offseason, training camp, in-season, postseason, evaluations, draft, free agency. He gave a lot of his time to me, and I was able to hopefully pick up as much as I could. Still got a lot to learn.
“I was 23-24 years old, so basically grew up there. Indebted to them forever for that. And getting to go back there after I had my experience with Denver, I think that was really important period of time for me because I knew what I had done and what I had experienced, and I got to kind of take some time and really try to soak in, ‘Alright, I know I didn’t do that very well.’”
McDaniels’ young tenure as the captain of the Silver & Black Pearl hasn’t gone very well, either. His Raiders are 5-8 and have suffered through a season in which double digit leads evaporated and the one-score losses have mounted. His desire for a focused and intelligent football team has only appeared in fleeting spurts, something that surely would drive his mentor Belichick to madness.
McDaniels will try to right the Raiders’ ship that fell in horrendous fashion to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14 but he’ll have to do it against a head coach who knows everything he knows — and plenty more. What’s working in McDaniels’ favor though, is the Patriots aren’t the same domineering force they’ve been — at least offensively. The team is 7-6 and fighting for its playoff life.
It’s Belichick’s defense, however, that is carrying his football team. Ranked fifth and sixth in the league in points allowed and yards allowed (239 total points yielded, 4,064 yards given up) New England’s defense can suffocate and terrorize opposing offenses with natural pressure. This allows the backend coverage unit do the sticking while the opposing quarterback takes a licking.
While McDaniels is well-aware of tendencies and cadence — he noted the Patriots and Raiders cadence will be eerily similar on Sunday in Allegiant Stadium — like most teams from year-to-year and week-to-week, things change.
“Certainly, we know some of the tendencies, but there’s some of what I see that I don’t know on any side of the ball,” McDaniels said. “And then there’s some other things that obviously I have had some experience with.
“I mean, they know what our cadence is. We’re not going to change that. We know what their cadence is, and it is what it is. You can change it here and there and make subtle adjustments if you want to try to protect something. I think you just got to be smart about that. Like, once you start overdoing that, then the week becomes more about that and not about what happens after the ball is snapped.”
Regular season record of former Bill Belichick Patriots assistants vs Belichick:— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) December 13, 2022
Brian Flores 4-2
Eric Mangini 3-4
Josh McDaniels 1-0
Matt Patricia 1-0
Romeo Crennel 1-1
Bill O'Brien 1-4
The most integral piece of the Patriot Game puzzle for McDaniels will be ensuring he puts his team in the best possible position to succeed. That means melding both play calling and player execution into the successful combination that resulted in the Raiders three-game win streak (before the team’s comedic collapse in L.A.). Avoiding mental lapses is a priority against the Patriots’ defense that’s an opportunistic group that can quickly change a game with not only takeaways, but defensive points.
“We try to coach it the best we can. We’re absolutely trying to hold everybody accountable to a championship standard in terms of the way we prepare, the way we play and the way we coach,” McDaniels said. “So again, some of that comes from experience, some of it comes from we’ve had to learn some hard lessons. But sometimes those lessons are the most valuable to you as you move forward. They don’t feel good now, but hopefully as we move forward you don’t make them again.”
There should also be adjustments aplenty along with leaning heavily on his top-two offensive weapons: Wide receiver Davante Adams and running back Josh Jacobs. In the end, thought, this matchup of master against pupil will come down to one simple thing: The team that makes the least mistakes, wins.