Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What Gives with “In Bill We Doubt”?

I read yesterday an AP article by unknown author(s) entitled, “In Bill We Doubt” that was published in the local paper. The author(s) are unknown as the article lacked a byline. The author( is a criticism of numerous decisions made by Bill Belichick over the last part of the past season. While I’m neither a Belichick nor a Patriot fan, I have great respect for him. His success as a coach is outstanding. His knowledge of the game, planning and strategies, and the utilization of his team to hamper the other team’s strengths and attack their shortcomings is beyond those held by nearly all other coaches at any level.


Belichick has delivered championship teams so frequently that it some, including the article’s author, seems to think that if Patriot’s are not in the Super Bowl every year that something is wrong. In the author’s view, what is wrong is Belichick. The tenor of the article is that Belichick is an exhausted coach who has lost his edge.

As the all wise Monday armchair coach the author lists several “instead if he had….” moments that occurred over the final portion of the season and in the last game against Denver. The implication is that if Belichick was not on the downside that the Patriots would again be winning this year’s Super Bowl instead of being bystanders to the game.  


Posturing as an expert this Monday comfy armchair coach is more pompous than balanced. Any  Monday armchair coach from the comfort of his chair and knowledge of the results has the luxury of time to consider and suggest different options. Such Monday coaches can say “they should have done…” as they pick apart particular decisions that did not work out.   

Two of the decisions for which the author lambasts Belichick were two late 4th quarter calls to go for it on the two 4th and short situations instead of kicking field goals. The author reasons that if they had gone for at least one of those field goals, the Patriots would have defeated the Broncos by one or two points. The math seems simple and the conclusion drawn by seems to lack any flaws. Yet there is a significant flaw in the assumption made by the arm-chair coach….that every play would have been the same.


The author makes his condemnation on the assumption that Broncos would have played the game in the exact same matter if their lead had been 5 points instead of 8. Highly skilled coaches match a strategy of the moment to the current game situation. Just to tie, the Patriots needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion. An 8 point lead focused the Broncos strategy upon running down the clock, forcing New England to start using their time-outs. Hence, the Broncos narrowed the range of their offensive calls as they became focused upon plays that would run down the clock. With New England in such a posture the Patriots defense enabled the Patriots to focus upon run plays. With the pass game, Manning’s strength, off the table, the Patriots were able to get the ball back more quickly and in better field position than if the Broncos remained in a more aggressive posture with Manning passing at the same rate as earlier in the game.


Now if, the lead had as a result of a field goal was down to 5 points, the Broncos would likely have been more aggressive as they focused upon at least off-setting the New England field goal with one of their own. While the Broncos may still have gone 3 and out, it was just as likely that a more aggressive posture would have yielded them two or three first downs and when they kicked the ball, left New England deeper into their own zone and with more plays to run to get down the field to score the winning touchdown.  

Drawing from his knowledge of his team, how the other team responds in one set of conditions versus another, the condition of his players at a given moment and how well his team has been handling the situations the opposing team executed, a coach is called upon to make real-time split-second decisions. The coach making such calls stands on the pre-event/play side of history whereas the arm-chair critic stands luxuriously on the post-side of history arguing for plays that none can attack as the plays were not executed.

The author overlooks three parts of Belichick’s and the Patriot’s successful formula…their comfort with running more risky plays, such as going for the 4th down and short play. They have had better success than most other teams and such success has yielded them championships. Further, they have also had a good level of success in putting their opponents in the uncomfortable position of having to run high risk plays, and to run them with little success. The comfort and success of running high risk plays are common features of championship teams. Few teams that play it safe by taking the safe low-risk options rarely become champions.

Let’s not fool ourselves if Patriot’s had made one of the 4th downs, and then one the game, the attackers would be proclaiming Belichick’s boldness and skills. I doubt few of those who are attacking Belichick for his calls, including the author, were crying out in their living rooms in the seconds before the 4th down attempt, “No, no, kick the field goal.” I suspect that most were hoping that the Patriot’s charm would hold.


If Belichick had gone for one of the field goals, and if with a different set of play calls Manning had lead his team deep down the field, what would have been the author’s thoughts if  the Patriots found themselves out of time.  I suspect the author would be attacking Belichick for not showing confidence in his team by going for it on the 4th downs in question and for taking the sure more modest points to narrow the score for a few minutes. The author would be lamenting that Belichick did not go for the victory when a successful 4th down play would have put New England in an excellent position to score a touchdown.


And that is the sham of the Monday coach, he is right as he knows what the outcome and one has little ground to criticize an option not exercised. The fact that some calls did not work out, does not diminish my respect. With his record, much more would need to happen before we should question or doubt his judgment.