January 30, 2015


The Great Defender : How ingenious defensive tactics, unrivaled precision, and a father's example made New England's Bill Belichick the NFL's best coach (CHRIS B. BROWN, JANUARY 30, 2015, Grantland)

Unlike the many coaches who identify with a particular style or tree, Belichick isn't locked into a singular ideology. He seems to effortlessly shift between tactics from week to week, and he's always bristled at attempts to neatly characterize his defenses, once calling the notion that he prefers a 3-4 defense a "media fabrication." For Belichick, there are no pure defensive systems, only objectives and constraints and a hyperrational evaluation of each: "You decide defensively how you want to defend them in the running game. Do you want to defend them with gap control? Do you want to two-gap? Do you want to try to overload the box with extra guys and play eight against seven or seven against six? Those are all the choices you make. With every decision, there's going to be an upside, there's going to be a downside. There will be advantages to playing certain things, there will be disadvantages." This is the kind of multi-tiered thought process Belichick calls "pretty straightforward." Right.

Thanks to that mentality, Belichick's greatness has never stemmed from the Big Idea, unless the Big Idea is the relentless application of many Little Ideas. For example: With the Giants, one of Belichick's best tactics was something he called BTF, or Blitz the Formation, an idea he gleaned from Buddy Ryan's famed 46 defense with the Chicago Bears. Instead of calling for specific players to blitz the quarterback, Belichick would make a BTF call, and once the offense showed how it was lining up, his players would check to a specialty blitz designed for when that particular opponent used that particular formation. In recent years, however, Belichick has expanded on this idea by having his players adjust their blitz assignments not only based on the offense's formation, but by having them trade assignments after the play begins.

On most NFL passing plays, the center is usually the key to understanding how the offense is trying to protect the quarterback. Defenses prefer to rush away from the center, which creates a mismatch in favor of the defense by forcing the running back to block a blitzing NFL linebacker (and also eliminates a potential receiver out of the backfield). If the running back isn't staying in to block, or if he is but whiffs, the defense has an unblocked blitzer, which is even better.

Today's offenses are nimble enough to redirect their pass protection schemes toward the most likely blitzers at the line. Belichick, however, enables his defenders to regain the advantage by teaching them to read the offense, specifically the center. For example, Belichick frequently calls blitzes with potential rushers lined up to the offense's left and right, with each reading the center's movement. If the center slides toward the keyed defender, he drops into coverage, and if the center slides away from the keyed defender, he turns kamikaze and blitzes the quarterback. [...]

In Week 16, with the Patriots clinging to a 17-16 lead with just more than six minutes left, the Jets faced third-and-4 from New England's 24-yard line. Just before the snap, New England's entire defensive front shifted, as defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Chris Jones moved inside and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower -- the defenders Belichick had designated for a tag-team "Rain" blitz -- moved just outside the tackles. As the play began, New York's center slid to his left, so Collins dropped back, right into Geno Smith's throwing lane, while Hightower flew into the backfield and sacked Smith for a 10-yard loss.

With the ball pushed back, Wilfork blocked Nick Folk's 52-yard field goal attempt, the Jets failed to threaten to score again, and Belichick notched another victory, once again subtly and masterfully upending his opponent.

Ironically for a guy known as cold-hearted when it comes to player/personnel decisions, his loyalty to the Super Bowl winning defenders cost the team a ring when they lost to the Colts in the 2006 Championship game, blowing a big lead as they tired out.

Posted by at January 30, 2015 3:18 PM

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