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Watching the Genius of Bill Belichick at Work

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

First, it was Bill Belichick’s birthday yesterday, so I wanted to wish Bill a Happy Birthday.

Look, even though it was Bill’s birthday yesterday won't change his consistent approach on being a man of few words, especially to the media. Let’s face it, the only time I see Bill happy and smiling is after a Super Bowl win and hugging his QB, Tom Brady. Said differently, 99% of the time he wears a frown or is indignant, especially to the press.

A person wouldn’t be wrong by saying Belichick is serious, intensely focused and his consistent message to his players is ‘do your job.’ If you are interested in knowing his game plan against an opponent, or how he approaches making adjustments throughout the game, it's a waste of time to get him to be very detailed or forthcoming during his post game press conference. A few years ago and after a game, Belichick was in a foul mood and wouldn’t give the press anything to chew on. He proceeded to say ‘On to Cincinnati’ several times during the press conference. In fact, some sports’ writers and sports’ hosts would mock Belichick by saying, ‘On to Cincinnati. On to Cincinnati’ in a gruff and unhappy tone.

I wonder what he was thinking before facing the Colts in Indy?
I wonder what he was thinking before facing the Colts in Indy?

Again, I hope the reader knows that the National or Boston press can't peel much from his game strategy. My approach is different -- study and analyze what his team does during a game is a required tool to understand his genius. Because there are no live professional or college sports during the Coronavirus pandemic, I desperately wanted any past NFL games so I watched the New England Patriots versus the Kansas City Chiefs rebroadcast about a week ago. This regular-season game was played on October 14, 2018, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the competition. A curious mind may wonder who won the game and my response is 'Foxboro' which means the Patriots rarely lose there.

Here are some of my observations of the Patriots performance in that game. When NE surprises you during the game or changes up things, take note of the score, time remaining, actual situation, health of team, health of opponents, etc. Remember, and especially when dealing with the Patriots and Belichick, you learn much more by what they do rather than by what they say…

  • Use the sideline as the 12th defender. Patriot defensive backs will slyly push and nudge receivers closer to the sidelines so the squeeze is used meaning there's less room to catch the ball. This occurred several times in the game. What makes this more special is the fact that the Patriot’s defensive backs are experts at avoiding pass interference.

  • Early in the game, the Patriot’s special team’s coach had the kicker attempt to kick the ball around the 1-yard line and force KC to return the kickoff instead of getting it on the 25-yard line with a touchback. With good kickoff coverage, this put the Chiefs in a weaker position with starting field position.

  • Because the Chief’s Travis Kelce was such a strong weapon at the time, NE put a speedy linebacker on him to mitigate the damage that Kelce would typically do. You can see Bill trying to take away your best weapon.

  • Because of the strong offense by the Chiefs and Mahomes, the Patriots showed them so many looks to try to keep the Chiefs off balance. Sometimes effective and sometimes not but NE tried to limit the amount of damage a strong offense could have on their defense.

  • New England’s defense would often blitz with linebackers, especially if KC had smaller running backs to block, advantage NE (I bet they'd be less likely to blitz with Derrick Henry in the backfield).

  • In the third quarter, KC scored on a 3 play 75 yards possession which took about 90 seconds off the clock. NE countered with a 6-minute drive to help chew up as much clock as possible in the attempt to grab back the momentum.

  • Most pro football fans realize that the Chiefs have a quick-strike offense so what do the Patriots do? Having one of the greatest QBs ever, they stuck to the ground game with 173 yards rushing. Not the most important aspect of the game but a key factor in controlling the line of scrimmage which often opens up the passing game.

  • Later in the game, KC did burn New England’s special teams by returning a kickoff 97 yards so the next time NE scored; they kicked it out of the end zone. Trust me, this was not by chance.

  • New England’s special teams are typically special and this game was no exception. Stephen Gostkowski was 5 for 5 on field-goal attempts. With a small margin of error, small things help to make a big difference in pro football.

  • In the second half and especially in the fourth quarter, NE threw short and safe passes to keep the clock moving. With Patrick Mahomes as the quarterback of the Chiefs, you want to minimize the number of possessions you give KC.

  • During this game, NE had over 36 minutes of possession which doesn’t mean you automatically win the game but typically if you control the clock and have Brady as your QB and you execute around the red zone, you’ll find much success.

I have a love-hate relationship with Bill Belichick. I love how well his team is prepared and their ability to execute the game plan is like manipulating chess pieces on a chess board. Their next move might be determined by what happened earlier in the game or a weakness discovered during the game in his opponent's run defense or special teams coverage. That's the genius he displays throughout the season. He may even at times exploit a current rule or a rule loophole in order to gain an advantage over his opponent. As I said earlier, you learn so much more about the Patriots by just watching what they do throughout the game in all three facets of the game: offense, defense and special teams.

Patriots on offense aganist the Colts from a few years ago...

Another effective Belichick employes to his players is never besmirch or disrepect your opponent, especially during the week of game preparation. His personal approach is to compliment and have some deference to your next opponent. Bill understands the value of "bulletin board material" so he ensures his players avoid that trap. Many other NFL coaches and players could learn this valuable approach too.

I believe it's required for NFL head coaches to hold a post game press conference which includes a statement by the head coach which is followed by the coach taking questions from reporters. After a win, a typical Belichick response might be that the team executed well and won because we scored more points than our opponents. After a loss, he might say they beat us in several aspects of the game and we struggled on 3rd down. Or, we weren't good enough tonight. In other words, not much of value for reporters to report on which to the sport's media and fans makes him look like a jerk or even worse.

Indeed he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’ll follow the letter of the law but not the spirit by making a statement and answering several questions but forgets or ignores the real purpose behind such an event. Again, Bill Belichick is a genius as an NFL coach but his overall behavior with the press and how he handles their questions during the press conference makes him come across as arrogant and somewhat of an asshole.


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