The Belichick Defense - Pt. 4

Part 4: Squaring a Circle

Always remember that the future comes one day at a time. – Dean Acheson

Bill Belichick started out as a special teams assistant, Defensive Coordinator, and then Head Coach. In 2005, after back-to-back Super Bowl wins, the first signs of decline became evident. The loss of Romeo Crennel, as he finally received his long awaited head coaching opportunity with - Yes....the Cleveland Browns. The very same team that let him go in 2000. Eric Mangini once again took the DC title and the defense struggled the first half of the season. They improved down the stretch, making Mangini a hot candidate for HC of the New Your Jets - a strange twist of irony. Retirement, players leaving for big paydays and the inevitable; Belichick needed to start the process of rebuilding the defense. Dean Pees moved into the DC role in 2006 -2009 and kept the solid reputation of the Belichick defense, as his units ranked in the top 10 every year.

In 2010, 16 teams employed a 3-4-defense, as opposed to 2003, where there were only two (New England and Pittsburg). Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and a sure way to deplete the talent pool, reducing the chance to get premium players for the specific 3-4 designs. Also, another facet began to surface, forcing defenses to adjust. The age of specialization began to grow, as offenses became more creative and getting a lot of innovations from the college game. Spread, Bunch and Wildcat formations were sprouting up everywhere and making defensive coordinators rethink their schemes. Why were the Patriots so successful against Peyton Manning before 2005 and struggle with him now? Specialization, pre 2005, the Patriots would try to use their Base 3-4 at least 50% of the game. Hinging on what we have been saying all along - that if you have 3 down players, you’re at a great advantage. Belichick was able to disguise his defensive schemes through that advantage. With the retirement of Ted Johnson, Bruschi beginning to age, his 2005 medical issues and the defection of Ty Law, the Patriots were losing integral parts of their hybrid machine. In 2006, Willie McGinest left via free agency, reducing the base set by 2007 to approximately 33% of the game. Now, to go back to Peyton Manning, where his success is reading defenses pre-snap and making his adjustment. If you keep your 3-4 base defense on the field against four WR sets and bunch formations, you're going to get torched. So the sub-package became the answer to multiple WR sets and spreads that included TE's and RB's. Now, Manning spends all week looking at the sub-packages instead of the 3-4; the scheme can't be run against those formations and thus rendering the disguising aspect far less impactful.

Belichick turned to a method they were using heavily on offense, game by game-game plans that required the entire 53-man roster. As always the Belichick trademark is the ability to adapt. In 2007 they started playing Manning in a nickel 4-2-5 for the entire game as their base. The 3-4 had to share its time now; it couldn't be center stage anymore, as the glitzy offenses forced the change in concept. The sub-package concept is this: match personnel to the skill set, if they have 4 WR's then counter with 4 CB's, (if they use 3 WR / 1 TE / RB - you counter with 1 LB / 3 CB / 1 S).. Belichick, seeing how the game is played now, feels it far better to play coverage over all out blitzing concepts. Not that he doesn't blitz, it's just that throwing the kitchen sink doesn't work for him. Belichick preferred smaller quick twitch CB's to cover the quick slot WR's that were being thrown at them. Now, he's moving to bigger CB's to cover the ever-expanding size of WR's. Devin McCourty (CB), Leigh Bodden (CB), Kyle Arrington (CB), Ras-I Dowling (CB) are all big CB's who play physical and going forward, in order to keep the 3-4 effective, the CB's play a huge key. In 2010, Belichick used Kyle Arrington in a LB type role to blitz the passer, a glaring indicator of what he wants his CB's to be physical enough to send on slot blitzes.

The Linebackers are young: Jerod Mayo (ILB,) Brandon Spikes (ILB), Gary Guyton (ILB), Jermaine Cunningham (OLB), Rob Ninkovich (OLB) - all 3 years or less experience. In 2010, we saw them take the first step, as they helped the defense rank number one in the NFL in takeaways. Physically, very comparable to the 2003 group, but mentally have much more room to grow. They will be asked to play the most important position in the system that has won Super Bowls. Mayo is the prototype Belichick ILB strong at the POI and runs down the line as good as any LB in the NFL. He also is a 3 down player. Vince Wilfork (NT) is the anchor on the defensive line, Ty Warren (DE) and Marcus Stroud (DE) should be the starting ends; Warren, who's been battling injuries the past few years, if he can come back provides a huge lift. Back in 2003, the Patriots practiced using tennis rackets to emulate Stroud’s long arms and if he can adapt, should be a solid fit at RDE.

Well, we can go on for days but there it is 'The Belichick Defense' from infancy to supremacy, and then to the current state. The one thing we know here at 60 Max is as much as you want to hold on, moving on is really the only option. There's an old saying - "Time waits for no one", and Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization don’t either.