By Steve Silverman
(CBS) There’s something frightful to opposing head coaches and fans when New England’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady put their heads together at a crucial moment in a game.
In addition to three Super Bowl victories and five Super Bowl appearances, Belichick and Brady can usually come up with a strategic edge. They will outthink opposing defensive coordinators on a consistent basis.
That happened once again in Week 6, when Brady threw the game-winning TD pass to rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds left in the game to take the heart out of New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Thompkins got behind the Saints defense, and that’s indicative of questionable personnel deployment by Ryan as well as a breakdown in coverage.
Belichick and Brady are a formidable combination, but they have plenty of company at or near the top. The Bears’ combination of Marc Trestman and Jay Cutler don’t have the track record because they are just in their first season together, but they are working their way up the ladder because of Trestman’s ability to put together a gameplan and Cutler’s arm strength, accuracy and quick release.
Here’s a look at the 10 best head coach-quarterback combinations in the league.
1. Belichick-Brady, New England – The track record keeps these two at the top of the list, even though the Pats are limited by their lack of established receivers this season. Belichick’s ability to think outside the box combined with Brady’s preparedness means that opposing defenses are going to be playing catch-up.
The other factor that makes these two formidable is their ability to put past performance behind them. They understand that what has happened in the past doesn’t matter and they have to move on to the next game and the next play. That allows them to stay in the moment and execute well, even if the last game or the previous play did not go well.
2. Sean Payton-Drew Brees, New Orleans – This is one of the best coach-player combinations in the league and perhaps one of the best in history. Payton was well-schooled in gameplanning when he became the Saints’ head coach prior to the 2006 season, and that’s the same year that Brees joined the Saints.
Brees had been an excellent quarterback with the San Diego Chargers, but his game picked up when he joined Payton.
The coach gave the quarterback plays that took advantage of his quick release and accuracy and did not ask him to go out of his comfort zone.
Payton and Brees have won one Super Bowl and have been to the playoffs four times. They are going to outthink the combination most weeks.
3. Mike McCarthy-Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay – McCarthy and Rodgers are in their sixth season of working together in Green Bay, and the combination has brought them one Super Bowl title and four straight postseason appearances.
The two are bonded together because McCarthy made the bold decision to send future Hall of Famer Brett Favre packing even though he had a superb 2007 season. McCarthy knew in his heart that Rodgers was the better quarterback and ready to take over and the two have worked well together since then.
4. John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco, Baltimore – Harbaugh is an excellent all-around football coach but he is not a quarterback specialist. He is not going to fine-tune Flacco’s mechanics or make regular suggestions concerning Flacco’s passing technique or footwork.
But Harbaugh is a brilliant motivator and psychologist. He knows when to build a player up and he also knows when to apply the boot to his posterior. He uses both techniques with Flacco and he has gotten exceptional results.
Flacco did not come into the league as the most confident quarterback when he was drafted out of Delaware, but that confidence may have been the biggest factor in the Ravens’ Super Bowl triumph last season.
5. Jason Garrett-Tony Romo, Dallas – See the Payton-Brees combination for the model that these two would like to follow. These two have known nothing but frustration at season’s end, because they have not gotten to the playoffs.
Normally, owner Jerry Jones would have fired his head coach or gotten rid of his quarterback under those circumstances, but it’s clear that Garrett is one of the best gameplanners and Romo throws one of the most catchable passes.
The problem has been crucial turnovers. The Cowboys are hoping that Romo’s recent performance against the Denver Broncos – he threw for 506 yards and five touchdowns – will put him over the edge and help turn the Cowboys into an elite team.
6. Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning, N.Y. Giants – Despite 2013 problems, they have won two Super Bowls together and know how to execute at the game’s crucial moments.
7. Jim Harbaugh-Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco – Harbaugh’s demanding personality and Kaepernick’s athletic ability form a stellar combination.
8. Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson, Seattle – Carroll’s ability to recognize his young quarterback’s intelligence and Wilson’s confidence may lead to a Super Bowl title this season.
9. Mike Smith-Matt Ryan, Atlanta – Despite backsliding in 2013, Smith and Ryan have excellent rapport. Will they be allowed to continue in 2014?
10. Marc Trestman-Jay Cutler, Chicago – Cutler has rare physical gifts and his coach has the intelligence to bring the most out of him.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.