Quick Hit: Bill Belichick’s Bend But Don’t Break
These days, the idea that Bill Belichick is a defensive “genius” seems to be taking a beating in the media. Looking at the yards his defenses have given up lately, it’s easy to see why some could claim that he’s lost his proverbial fastball. Has the game passed Belichick by? A quick look at his defenses over the course of his career suggests that Belichick’s defenses are still very good (although not even I would argue that the 2011 Patriots’ D is any better than mediocre).
Between 1986-2010, Belichick oversaw 26 defenses (7 New York Giants, 5 Cleveland Browns, 3 New York Jets, 11 New England Patriots). Of these defenses, 12 gave up more yards than league average. His defenses average a YPD+ of 101 over that period. Can we really call him a genius for having defenses give up 1% fewer yards than average? Of course not, but luckily yards don’t really matter – points do. In those same 26 seasons, Belichick coached defenses have given up fewer points than average 20 times, averaging a DPPG+ of 113 – meaning his teams give up 13% fewer points than average.
Yesterday, I discussed the idea of “bend but don’t break” – teams who have a big difference between DPPG+ and YPD+. Take a look at how Belichick coached teams stack up:
As you can see, defenses which perform much better at preventing points than preventing yards are a Belichick specialty. Of the 100 teams with the biggest difference between PPG+ and YPD+, nine were coached by Bill Belichick. Two of the Patriots’ Super Bowl winning teams (2001, 2004) were well below average in YPD allowed but both excelled at preventing points. While I’m sure he’d like to force a 3-and-out every time his opponent has the ball, it’s pretty clear that he is willing to give up yards as long as his defenses can clamp down in the red zone and create turnovers.