Bill Belichick made his bones in the NFL as a “defensive guy.”
Those images of Belichick on his knees, drawing up ingenious plays on a white board to the great players of the 1980s and early 90s New York Giants live on in NFL lore. In fact Belichick gets just as much if not more credit than the Giants head coach at the time – Bill Parcells – for that defense, specifically his superb game plan to stop Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills’ “K-Gun” offense in Super Bowl XXV.
Something has happened over the years, though. Belichick’s defenses have seemingly gotten less aggressive, year by year, since the Giants days and even his early Patriots days.
The identity of the Patriots under Belichick has been one of near-perfect balance. The championship winning Patriots teams of the early 2000s were led by their defense, but the offense was right there in terms of production by the time the team had won its third Super Bowl in 2004. The 2007 team flipped the script on this, as the Pats have had one of the league’s elite offenses ever since. In the past 10 years, the defense has been very good most of the time - but not quite as great as the offense has been.
Of course, the offense has been boosted a tad by the fact that it has the greatest quarterback of all-time steering the ship. The defense - while it’s had great players like Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Vince Wilfork and Dont’a Hightower - has never had a Brady-level or Lawrence Taylor-level player on it.
Those once-in-a-generation players are hard to come by, and Belichick’s been lucky enough to have coached both of them.
It’s really difficult to divvy up the pie of success and the pie of blame with all of this. Just like then defensive coordinator Belichick gets the brunt of the praise for scheming Taylor and the 80s Giants, shouldn’t Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels get the brunt of the praise for scheming Brady and the Patriots offense for most of these last 10 years?
Should Belichick get all the praise for the success of the Pats’ early 2000s defenses when they shut down the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams and routinely got in the head of Peyton Manning in his prime? Should Romeo Crennel get any of that praise?
Conversely, should Belichick catch all of the flak from the Pats’ leaky defense this past season, which was highlighted (or lowlighted) by a back-up QB looking like Dan Marino against them in the Super Bowl? Don’t forget, the Pats had two weeks to prepare for Nick “Friggin’” Foles.
Does Matt Patricia deserve most of the heat?
The fact of the matter is, when things go right around here defensively – Belichick is typically the one who gets the praise. He was the one who waited for the Seahawks to make a mistake down at the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX. He was the one who was in Manning’s head all those years. He was the one who figured out the high-powered Rams.
So how did what happened in Super Bowl LII happen?
It just still does not make a lick of sense that the guy who most everyone – including myself – considers to be the greatest defensive football coach of all-time could allow guys like Foles, and Corey Clement, and Nelson Agholor, and LeGarrette Blount to run roughshod all over him in the biggest game of the year.
Belichick’s defense gave up 41 points to these after-thoughts, and he’s the guy who used to slay Hall of Fame dragons like Kelly and Joe Montana, and Kurt Warner, and Manning.
Has the old man lost it?
Perhaps. He’s 65-years-old now. He’s much closer to the end of his coaching career than the beginning and all that.
But I truly believe, given the right mix of dynamic defensive players, that Belichick has one more kick-ass, take-no-prisoners all-time great defensive seasons in him. The problem is that Belichick the GM has been settling on B and C players for some time now.
There are no Bruschis, there are no Laws, there are no Seymours, there are no Harrisons, there are no Wilforks on this team. There are certainly no LTs.
There is a Hightower, but that’s about it in terms of A-listers.
Bend but don’t break is broken
The bend but don’t break approach simply does not work anymore. Belichick, who has been the king of adaptation in pro football for decades, simply refuses to mimic some of these other defensive approaches that are working around the league.
We’ve been taught in New England for the past 15 years that yards allowed per game is a useless stat, right up there with QBR. Points are the only thing that matters, we’ve been told. Tighten up in the red zone, give up a bunch of field goals, limit the touchdowns, and you’re golden.
But consider the top four defenses in the NFL in yards allowed per game this past season: 1. Vikings, 2. Jaguars, 3. Broncos, 4. Eagles.
Three of those teams went to at least the conference championship game this past season and the other one won a Super Bowl thanks to their stifling defense just two years ago. The Patriots, meanwhile, finished 29th in yards allowed per game this past season.
This past season, the best defensive teams in the NFL had ball hawks. The Jaguars had 21 interceptions on the season, second in the league. The Eagles were tied for fourth with 19.
This past season, the best defensive teams were aggressive as hell, too.
The Jags forced 17 fumbles in 2017. The Eagles forced 16.
The Patriots? They forced just 9, and they ranked 30th in the NFL in that category.
The Patriots still do not have a defensive coordinator and it’s mid-March.
So, I nominate Bill Belichick.
If he really is the great defensive mind we all believe him to be, then it’s time to show it one more time.