By Steve Silverman
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The 16-game NFL season is an enigma.
Compared to the other sports seasons, each team has little time to prove itself. In baseball’s 162 games, every team is going to have a number of one-sided losses and a team that ends up winning the World Series could have a bad month, or at the very least, a bad two weeks.
Basketball and hockey play approximately half the games that baseball does. Championship teams will get blown out from time to time and go through a week or two of uninspired play.
In the NFL, it would seem that with a 16-game season, teams don’t have this luxury. Two losses in a row and you have blown one-eighth of your season.
But here’s the strange part that Tom Coughlin has proven time and time again and many other Hall of Fame coaches have learned. You can suffer one or two losses – even bad ones – and find a way to bounce back.
It’s how fast you can put those losses behind you.
Coughlin excels in that area. He doesn’t panic when the Giants lose a game. He goes back to grinding it out and studying the next opponent’s tendencies.
The Giants lost two games in December last year and then played razor-sharp football during the last two weeks of the season and throughout the four-game playoff run.
He excels at not only picking out what his team is doing wrong and coming up with an alternative, but he looks at the opponents and finds their potential weak spots and exploits them.
Not their obvious weak spots, because any ordinary coach can do that. But looking at who may be vulnerable and figuring out a way to exploit them.
That’s what today’s coaching in the NFL is all about.
Here are the five other coaches in the NFL who are in Coughlin’s class when it comes to breaking down an opponent. We are not talking about coaches who rally players emotionally and boost them with fiery lockerroom talk. Some of these coaches may do that, but it’s their ability to break down an opponent that makes them solid at their craft.
Andy Reid, Philadelphia – Few coaches understand offensive football the way Reid does, and it shows the way his team plays attacking defense. He knows that to be effective, his defense must find every potential vulnerable area and find a way to demonstrate its dominance. When the Eagles can do this and they keep their own offensive mistakes to a minimum, they have an excellent chance of winning.
John Harbaugh, Baltimore – This long-time assistant and son of a head coach has been breaking down film since childhood. The Ravens go into each game with a clear road map of who they can exploit on the other side to gain victory and who will represent the most difficult players to beat. That’s where Harbaugh has his edge. He attacks your weaknesses and he protects his own like few other NFL coaches.
Bill Belichick, New England – No surprise to see Belichick on this list. Breaking down tape is like breathing to Belichick. You’ve seen his duller than dull postmortems after nearly all Patriots games. In Belichick’s view, once he’s talking to the press after the game he’s really moved on to the next opponent. Another son of a coach, Belichick simply sees things that no network analyst sees. A player who appears to be strong at his position may have the slightest flaw. Belichick’s job is to figure that weakness out and give his players a plan to exploit that issue.
Jeff Fisher, St. Louis – Taking the 2011 season off for Fisher has re-energized him and made him a sharper and more alert coach. Having to babysit players like Vince Young and Albert Haynesworth along with owner Bud Adams took its toll on Fisher. Now he’s comfortable again and even though his Rams lack overall talent compared to opponents, they may be far more competitive than you would expect because he knows how to find weaknesses and point them out to his team. His players may not always be able to exploit them, but he knows where they are.
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco – Harbaugh can be a lot more abrasive than his brother, but he knows how to break down tape and give his talented players a way to exploit the next opponent. He demonstrated in his first full season that he can find the winning formula nearly every week and that’s one of the reasons his players compete so hard for him.
Do you believe Coughlin excels in exploiting the weakness of his team’s opponents? Let us know in the comment section below.