A lot of ink has been wasted trying to convince the football-loving world that Bill Belichick is a defensive genius, and legions of New England Patriots fans blindly adhere to this notion. It is a myth that has been repeated so many times that it has become accepted as fact, but the truth does no such mythologizing.
Since 2000, under Belichick’s leadership, the Patriots have had below-average and mediocre defenses that rely too heavily on Tom Brady to save their sorry backsides. The team’s average ranking in terms of YPG over that span is 17th. In fact, in every major defensive category, the Patriots’ average ranking since 2000 is similar: 19th in passing yards allowed, 13th in rushing yards allowed, 22nd in sacks and 24th in interceptions.
In essence, Belichick defenses are flag football squads that are incompetent at creating turnovers and that fail at rushing the passer.
The Belichick defenders will attempt to argue that while those numbers may be accurate, they fail to mention that Belichick defenses also rank ninth since 2000 in terms of points allowed. They will claim this justifies the “bend, but not break” defense, but this line of logic is inherently flawed for a number of reasons.
First, the opposing offenses’ ability to continuously gain yards means the Patriots’ offense is warming benches and that they will be more prone to fatigue later in the game. A perfect example of this is what happened in Super Bowl XLII, when the New York Giants opened with a 10-minute drive and significantly outgained the Patriots in yards per play.
This had the desired result as the Patriots’ defense succumbed on the final drive and lost the game, because the “bend, but not break” defense perpetually breaks.
Due to this, the Patriots’ offense is incapable of getting in sync as they’re too busy getting splinters. This was evident in Super Bowl XLVI when the Giants controlled the ball for over 37 minutes, and the Patriots defense could not muster a challenge late in the fourth quarter while their Hall-of-Fame QB watched from the bench.
Last, points are points, and if the Patriots’ defense is constantly bending to allow field goals while not giving their offense the time and opportunities to respond, then FGs mean game over. This was on display in the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos as the Patriots’ defense was amazingly inept at stopping the Broncos, allowing four Matt Prater field goals and let Denver easily win the time of possession.
In all, it led to 12 Bronco points and 10 less minutes for the Patriots offense to counter. Denver’s field goal drives of 12 and seven minutes ensured that Brady once again rode the pine in defeat.
Then there is the touchy subject of Spygate, which unfortunately still matters for Patriots fans, and here’s why. In every defensive category mentioned, the Patriots’ average ranking got worse after Spygate. More disturbingly, before Spygate, they were ranked in the top-10 four times in total defense, but just once since in 2008. One could argue the illegal films still had some value.
Additionally, pre-Spygate, Belichick defenses ranked in the top 10 five times in rushing yards allowed, and only once since. They haven’t ranked in the top three in points allowed at all, but did so three times pre-Spygate.
However, the most alarming statistics concern the playoffs. The Spygate Patriots were 14-3 with three Super Bowl victories against Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks and lost their playoff games by an average of six points. Since then, they are 4-5 with two Super Bowl losses against a QB who throws interceptions as a hobby, posted two first round flameouts, were easily beaten by the Mr. “Butt Fumble”-led New York Jets in the playoffs and lost by an average of nine points.
Outside of Brady, Belichick has been the one constant and the numbers do not support the defensive genius theory, at least certainly not when looked at objectively with Spygate taken into account. This leaves fans with only three viable options.
You can either admit Spygate was at least partially responsible for the early success, Belichick inherited a solid defense, or he simply got lucky, none of which justify the defensive genius label. In truth, we were all hoodooed by the media mythmakers.