It turns out that Bill Belichick actually has a lot to say, at least as long as you ask him the right questions.
Though he entered the league in 1975 with the Colts, Belichick had been studying the game long before that, including all the time he spent helping his father break down film for the Naval Academy as a kid. He’s been around since the beginning of the modern era of the game, and has competed against most of the game’s great players and coaches, giving him a perspective that is unmatched.
That’s why I put together The Big Book of Belichick (link).
The book is nearly 500 pages long, and it has pages and pages of discussion on all sorts of different football topics.
To give you an idea of the kind of insight available in the book, I’ve pulled five of my favorite quotes and put them here.
1. Defending rub routes with multiple defensive backs
Q: It looked like the Giants tried to run a couple rub routes on their final drive. How do your cornerbacks work in tandem to defend those routes? Is it coordinated pre-play or is it based on something they see as the play unfolds?
BB: Right, any time you’re in man-to-man coverage and there is multiple people involved – two-on-two, three-on-three or sometimes you can be three-on two or four-on-three, whatever it happens to be – yeah, I think the communication is the key thing there. There are a lot of different ways you can play it. The most important thing is that you clearly know how you’re playing it and everybody is playing it the same way. If one guy is playing it one way and the other guy is playing it another way, then you’re dead. Yeah, so on two-on-two’s, we can combo those and switch them.
Sometimes the rule changes a little bit about when we switch or when we don’t depending on the type of route that they run. Yeah, that was the case. I think on the first play, which was a second-down play, we also got some pressure on that play with I want to say it was Akiem Hicks and maybe Rob [Ninkovich] coming off the edge there. I don’t know if it would have got to [Eli] Manning because he kind of grabbed it and threw it but there wasn’t a lot of time for him to sort out the pattern, whereas on the second one it was kind of a rollout play and then that extended a little bit longer all the way to the sideline and finally whoever it was – Rob or Malcolm [Butler] or somebody – came up there and kind of forced him to …
He just went down and took the sack and kept the clock running. But the first play he really never got outside at all. It was just pressure and Logan [Ryan] took the outside route to [Dwayne] Harris and then Malcolm kind of fell off it and the combination of the pressure and the coverage, there just wasn’t much there.
2. How Good Middle Linebackers See Things
Q: What is it that allows Jerod Mayo to kind of wade through blockers and see the backfield the way he does?
BB: I think that’s kind of just the reverse of being a running back: as a linebacker, you take your keys and you sort of see all those bodies in front of you and basically I think what you look for is some space, because that’s what the runner is looking for. You don’t want to end up where you already have people; you want to end up where there is space and that’s where the backs are looking to go. It’s not where the bodies are, but where they aren’t. It’s sort of the same thing.
Defensively, you’re sort of reading the same thing that the running back is reading. Once the initial blocks and the initial contact kind of takes place and then starts to sort itself out or separate a little bit, then the defender is looking for kind of the same thing the running back is looking for from the other side of the line of scrimmage. Jerod has terrific instincts. He had those in college and I think that’s one of the impressive things about watching him at Tennessee – just the way he was able to sort plays out, find the ball, get over trash, get past guys that are around his feet or in the pile in the way and get past that to make the tackle. Of course he’s a strong tackler.
I’ve talked, I’ve coached it a long time, coaching Harry [Carson] and Pepper [Johnson] and Carl [Banks] and those guys [and] in Cleveland, Mike Johnson, Clay Matthews, Marvin Jones, Mo Lewis. The more you talk to them, the more it’s hard for them to explain it. ‘What did you see on this play?’ ‘Well, I just saw it.’ ‘Why did you go there?’ ‘I just…it was there and I just felt it was the right thing to do.’ There’s just so much happening in front of you that it’s really hard to say, ‘It was this. It was that.’
But just put the whole picture together and they see something and that’s why they go there. It’s probably the same thing the back sees on the other side of the ball. ‘What exactly did you read?’ ‘I saw this, but in the end I saw a space to run and that’s where I went.’ That’s where the linebacker went to meet him.
3. Playing Outside Receiver vs Inside Receiver
Q: Is it more difficult for receivers who primarily play on the outside to move inside or vice versa?
BB: That’s a good question. It’s an interesting question and it’s certainly one that that whole conversation is one that we spend a lot of time talking about as a scouting staff, in terms of evaluating players and scouting players. Let me say this, first of all, I think it depends on obviously what the players are asked to do. Not every outside receiver plays like every other outside receiver, just like every inside receiver doesn’t play like every other inside receivers. There are some things that some inside receivers do that are similar but also there are some that are very different from what other guys do. So I’d say, again, it depends what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for an inside receiver to do things that are similar to what outside receivers do, then I’d say that transition is probably not that big of a deal. If those routes and the type of passing game that’s done on the inside part of the field is quite a bit different from the outside part of the field, then you’re probably looking at mostly different type of guys. Obviously some players are good enough to play anywhere.
Then there are other guys that probably fall into more of one role or the other. But forgetting about all that for the moment, I would say that the game inside in the slot is different from the perimeter because of the number of people that are involved. You’re not just looking at – a lot of times outside, you’re pretty much dealing with one guy. It’s the wide receivers and the corner. You have to have an awareness of the safety, whether he’s over the top or rotated in the middle or into a seam area. That’s pretty much about it, for the most part. When you’re inside, you have a corner outside, you have a slot defender, you have a safety, you have a linebacker so there are at least four guys that you really, I would say, pretty much have to deal with one of them or two of them one way or another. That creates a lot more variables than playing on the perimeter.
I’m not saying it’s harder [or] easier, it’s just different. The same thing is true on defense covering that position. You have the proximity of the next inside player, the next outside player and some type of player in the deep part of the field, unless it’s an all-out blitz. That changes the relationship a lot from what it is when you’re playing on the perimeter as a corner. You just don’t have that – you have the sideline but you don’t have the number of players. So in terms of like, what does this player do? What does that player do? I think it starts with, like anything else, just like if you were hiring someone for a job – what’s the job description? What do you want that player to do? Once you prioritize what you want that player to do, then you try to fit the player into that job description. Some of the things they have to do are the whole intelligence of recognizing different coverages and different relationships. How much do you want a vertical speed guy that can go in there and get through the middle of the defense? How important is blocking in the running game because it’s going to be a factor when you’re in there that close. How important is quickness and creating separation on five to seven-yard type routes on third down. What’s your priority? Then you want to get a player that fits those priorities.
4. Game Day Coaching
Q: Do you have a go-to list of how you want to approach game-day coaching?
BB: I definitely believe in a process. I don’t know that that’s the same in every single game. Well, I’d say it’s not the same in every single game. It depends on who you’re playing and kind of what they do or what you anticipate them doing as to how you want to approach it. It’s a great question. It’s a very interesting point of discussion. I think there are a lot of things to look at throughout that, but it’s all critical in the communication and coordination of processing the information that you get during the game, I’d say it’s not easy to do. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s not easy to do because it comes from a lot of different sources and you definitely want to prioritize it. I’d say those are some of the components of it.
Number one, getting the most important things handled – whatever they are. It could be what you’re doing, it could be what they’re doing, it could be the weather conditions – whatever the most important things are making sure that you start at the top. And also you don’t have all day. You don’t even know how long you have. If you’re on defense the offense could be out there for a seven-minute drive, they could be out there for a 30-second drive, so you’ve got to prioritize what you’re doing so that you get to the most important things first, so if you’re running out of time, you haven’t used your time inefficiently. So that’s number one.
Number two, there’s the, what we’re doing versus what they’re doing. A lot of times just making sure that you’re right is more important than identifying what they’re doing. Sometimes identifying what they’re doing, until you get that cleared up then you’re kind of spinning your wheels in the sand and you’re not making any progress because you don’t really understand exactly what the issues are. In the game situation that changes all that. You have the information from players, which is they’re in the heat of the battle. You have information from the press box, who can get as much of an overview as you can get. You have sideline information. So sometimes that’s the same, sometimes information – you don’t see it quite the same way.
The way one coach sees it, the way the press box sees it, the way the sideline sees it, the way a player on the field sees it, it’s not quite all the same way. So you’ve kind of got to sort all that out. And then there is the balance of fixing what is in the rearview mirror and looking ahead. So like, OK we’ve got to take care of these problems, here’s what happened, but at the same time, you’re spending all your time on that, some of that is not even relevant because the next time you go out there, OK what are we going to do? We’ve corrected those problems, maybe we’re going to make a different call or maybe we’re going to be in a different situation, how do we handle that? So there is the balancing of new information versus analysis of previous information.
There are a lot of components to that, and I think a good coach, the decision making that they make within all that is what makes him a good coach. What information is important, where do we start, how do we get the most information across in the least amount of time and making sure that we get the information to the right people? Some coverage adjustment, the guard doesn’t care about. He doesn’t care about what coverage they’re running. The receiver doesn’t care if the nose is shaded or not shaded. But I’d say that’s a very interesting part of game day from a coaching standpoint and one that’s important, it’s critical, and there are a lot of components to it.
5. Playing 3 Safeties vs 3 Corners in Nickel
Q: When you are playing in a nickel defense what goes into the thought process between alternating amongst three cornerbacks and two safeties or two cornerbacks and three safeties?
BB: Right, yeah, it’s a good question. It’s really a good point. Some of it is the matchups, some of it at times is what we’re doing and if we’re doing something that one player versus another one is maybe better at, whether that’s man coverage or zone coverage or blitzing or playing the run, whatever it happens to be. There could be other reasons for that as well, too, as part of just the overall matchup. Not necessarily one-on-one, it could be that, but it also could be more of a scheme thing or maybe anticipation of what they would be doing against that personnel group. So, I’d say it’s a combination of all of those things that could change week to week. It’s hard to go into games with a lot of different groupings.
I think that’s because you have to have those backups in case one person gets hurt, then what do you do with that group? Do you just throw it away or do you have to have somebody else practicing so that you can maintain the group? So, it’s hard to go in with multiple groups and have them all backed up, so a lot of times we might go with one or the other. If you do that with multiple groups then you have to figure out some way to adjust if you don’t have all the players in that group for one reason or another. But that’s all part of what we look at each week with our matchups against our opponents and again, not just the individual size, speed, personnel strength and weakness [of the] matchup but also from a scheme standpoint what our players do well, what position we want to try and put our players in based on the types of calls or defenses that we’ll be running.
The Big Book of Belichick is available in paperback, Kindle, and even in audiobook format.