Patriots Can’t Afford to Save Adjustments For Halftime

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January 7, 2010

Patriots Can't Afford to Save Adjustments For Halftime FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bad things come to those who wait, at least as far as in-game adjustments are concerned. If NFL teams waited until halftime to make corrections, they?d find themselves buried at the buzzer, with little reason to even emerge from the locker room for the start of the third quarter.

That?s not to say halftime adjustments lack importance, but they don?t really carry any more weight than that which can be corrected on the sidelines.

?The difference between high school, college and [the NFL] is in high school, the adjustments are made the day after the game,? said New England Patriots running back Sammy Morris, reciting advice he heard from an old coach in Buffalo. ?In college, the adjustments are made at halftime. In the pros, the adjustments are made like right now. It?s a balance of that where you?re constantly adjusting, but at the same time, when you come to halftime, it?s still maybe a collection of all the adjustments you have made during the game. You just get a chance to talk about them on the board with everybody sitting together.?

Halftime is still all about business. Teams rush into the locker rooms with the hope of getting 10 solid minutes of meeting time with the coaching staff. They bust out the white boards, and the offensive and defensive units split up to different halves of the room. (Special teams units don?t meet during halftime. They meet with coordinator Scott O?Brien on the sideline after each special teams play to break down what just happened.)

The coaching staff will typically reinforce the first-half adjustments they?ve already made on the sideline, hitting on three or four keys that are crucial for the game?s final 30 minutes. Sometimes, they?ll get a chance to break down the last offensive or defensive series of the first half, depending on a trend — for better or worse — one of the teams developed in those final few plays.

?We go over what we need to go over,? said Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. ?I think everybody understands it?s not time to play around and be missing for 10 minutes. We all get in here and get the adjustments and move on from there. It?s a crucial moment.?

While 10 minutes isn?t exactly enough time to reinvent the forward pass or recreate the playbook from NFL Blitz, it can be used to clear up a couple of assignments that could yield better results in the second half. For instance, if Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis keeps ransacking the Patriots? backfield on Sunday, Bill Belichick or one of his assistants might tell the running backs to stay home in blitz protection for an extra moment before releasing into a passing route.

?A little thing can be an earth-shattering thing,? Morris said. ?If it?s making an adjustment between picking up a guy that?s been getting to a quarterback or making a protection or something, you can consider that minor, but it?s earth-shattering in the sense that you?re now getting the ball off.?

While the notion of halftime adjustments can sometimes get blown out of proportion, they?re still crucial to the team?s success. After all, it?s no coincidence Gillette Stadium was built with a door behind the Patriots? sideline that leads almost directly into the New England locker room. Meanwhile, the visiting team has to cross the field, enter the tunnel and double back through the hallway to get to their locker room, which likely takes them an extra minute or two.

?This is the National Football League,? Wilfork said. ?Teams are going to find their bread and butter, and they?re going to run with it. Some, you might have seen before. Some, you probably haven?t. Those 10 minutes are a crucial 10 minutes when we come into this locker room and try to get everything out, see what they?re doing and seeing what they?re trying to do and go forward from there. It?s always critical.?

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