There are two general philosophies for trying to deal with a great player in almost any sport.
1. Resign yourself to the idea the great player is going to produce and do your best to shut down the less talented supporting players.
2. Do what you can to take away the great player and force others to step up.
Bill Belichick's philosophy falls squarely in the second camp. His defensive game plan usually revolves around taking away the best part of the opponent's offense. He wants to take the offense out of its comfort zone. He wants the other team to have to do unfamiliar things to win. Leaving your comfort zone means there is a great chance for miscues. This is also true because the opponent has to lean on less talented players.
Belichick's methods to prepare his team to take away the opponent's best go to an extreme in preparation.
"A lot of teams just see it as eight more practice bodies," said Russ Lande, a former NFL scout. "But the Patriots are one of the few teams that understand how to manipulate the practice squad. They're using those guys to fill specific roles based on their opponents."
Since 2011, the league's collective-bargaining agreement has limited the number of practices a team can hold, particularly in full pads. But within those constraints, Belichick has remained committed to practices that simulate game conditions.
By bringing in players who are the same size and speed as upcoming opponents and instructing them to run plays the coaches have identified from film study, the Patriots say they are able to get an accurate idea of how to attack or defend a specific player. The team also can try out different blitzes and coverages.
"If they don't have anyone on their roster that can emulate that particular player in practice, they're going to bring somebody in for a week, or even two if it's a big game, to give them that look," Lande said.
In the first meeting between the Jets and the Patriots, New England did what it could to take away Brandon Marshall. They used Logan Ryan to primarily cover Brandon Marshall, but they were constantly shading their deep safety, Devin McCourty, in a position to help with a double team over the top.
On this play, they line Patrick Chung underneath and rolled him in Marshall's direction to further clog the passing lane in addition to shading McCourty his way.
On this play, Jamie Collins gets the Quinton Coples Memorial linebacker trying to obstruct the big receiver role before he heads out into his route.
This particular zone play might tell the whole story. Look how they collapse on Marshall near the bottom. Look at how much space Eric Decker has to work with comparatively at the top.
So how do the Jets work around this? Here was one instance in the second half when Chan Gailey got creative to free up Marshall.
Marshall actually lines up in the backfield as a running back next to Fitzpatrick in a shotgun set.
He then motions out.
The hope is for the Pats to fall asleep and assign a safety or a linebacker to Marshall as though he is a back. This doesn't work, but they do get him into the slot, where he has more room to operate. Since he isn't at the line, Ryan has a tougher time jamming him, and Marshall is able to win and collect a 13 yard completion.
I am not sure that we will see the Jets do a bunch of this early in Sunday's game. Ryan Fitzpatrick has said he felt like the offense got bogged down a bit because they were moving Marshall around too much trying to create more favorable matchups instead of keeping it simple, sticking him outside, and letting him win. Given the recent success of the passing game, I think this is the type of thing you would see mainly as an in-game adjustment if the Pats were bogging down Marshall and the rest of the offense.
So what needs to happen? Marshall is certainly good enough to produce even though he is the focal point of the defensive scheme. New England is not the first team to focus its scheme on taking him away.
The rest is fairly simple. Belichick's philosophy predicates itself on making the supporting cast beat you. The supporting cast needs to step up. You can see in some of these the amount of space opened up by the attention Marshall draws. Plus if Marshall is drawing extra defenders, it means there are one on ones for Jets targets to win. Malcolm Butler is a player getting a lot of praise lately, but Eric Decker gave him some considerable problems in the first matchup one on one. This was a game where the Jets used Jeremy Kerley a bit. Can Quincy Enunwa build off his strong Saturday in Dallas?