It helps Bill Belichick relay to the New England Patriots certain tendencies of opponents, who will, for example, blitz 75 percent of the time on third-and-long or throw a screen pass 25 percent of the time on second-and-15. Plenty of Belichick’s players have spoken about his preparation tactics, including their ability to be well aware of specific percentages in their opponents’ play selections.
On Thursday, Belichick said he uses that computer system to monitor his own team’s tendencies, as if he were an opposing coach preparing for the Patriots that coming Sunday. It’s a self-scouting technique he uses as in-house maintenance to make sure his team isn’t too predictable. Basically, Belichick doesn’t want opponents to be able to beat him the same way he is able to beat them.
“You’re sort of looking at what other people are seeing from you and what tendencies you have,” Belichick said. “I think every good team has tendencies. I think you can look out there at any team in football, in basketball, hockey, there are certain things that they do, and if they’re a good team, they probably do them well. You look at it and say, ‘There they go again. That same thing is happening again.’ I don’t think those tendencies are necessarily a bad thing, but I think there is a point where you want to have balance and do things to complement it.”
These computer systems can do some spectacular things. To start off, every single play — on offense, defense and special teams — is logged into the system as a video highlight and then labeled for research purposes. Coaches, video assistants and scouting directors mark each play by down, distance, time on the clock, score, weather conditions, opponent, game location, yard line, hash mark, personnel groupings, pre-snap motion and the result of the play.
For instance, Belichick can find out simple tendencies, such as each of his offense’s third-down attempts. Or, if he wants something more complex, he can narrow it down to find out what plays he used to gain at least 10 yards on third-and-six-or-more when his team trailed by 10 points in the second half.
When looking at the Miami Dolphins, who travel to Gillette Stadium on Nov. 8, Belichick can study each of Miami’s wildcat plays. Or, he can search more specifically for wildcat formations when Ronnie Brown took the snap after Ricky Williams motioned from the slot to the backfield.
For self-scouting purposes, Belichick will try to make sure of such things as his team’s coverage schemes in nickel formations. He’ll make sure he mixes up zone and man coverages, as well as blitz patterns. Belichick doesn’t want an opposing offense to know the Patriots blitz a safety from the strong side on 55 percent of midrange second downs.
However, if a predictable tendency works at a high percentage, Belichick has no problems keeping it going.
“Of course, if we’re seeing that, then our opponents are seeing that,” Belichick said of the self-scouting methods. “Again, it might be something that we might say that’s where we want to be and we’re OK with that. Then there also might be a feeling that it is getting too predictable.”
Belichick also remains cautious of visual evidence versus statistics. Without looking at the highlights, Belichick could potentially find out his team is gaining an average of 6.3 yards on second-and-10-or-more this season. Looking at the video, though, Belichick knows those numbers could be swayed if a chunk of those situations came from the Patriots’ 59-0 victory against the Tennessee Titans in the snow. The elements could have caused some missed tackles, or the majority of the plays could have occurred after the game was well out of hand.
“It does statistically sometimes point out something,” Belichick said, “and then you go to the film, look at it and say, ‘Well, yeah, we had a lot of production on these plays, but it’s a little misleading. They had some missed tackles. It really wasn’t that good. We had some, but it wasn’t because it was a great play.’ And then there are other things that statistically don’t look good, but you look at it and say, ‘We’re on the right track here if we just made this block, or we hadn’t gotten that play called back with a penalty. If something hadn’t happened, if this guy hadn’t slipped, then we would have been productive there.’ So it is a combination of those two things. There’s no substitute for actually seeing the play, actually seeing the film.”
While the computer system is an essential tool for NFL teams nowadays, it’s not a substitute for a good coach. Belichick is already going to know his team’s tendencies, but this method draws up statistics that reaffirm his beliefs. So, whether Belichick is self-scouting or trying to prepare for next week’s opponent, it’s a safe bet that everything his team sees at meetings and practices has derived from a computer in the bowels of Gillette Stadium.
“That’s going to be part of the game plan or the attack against our next opponent,” Belichick said. “It’s good to know where you are even if you decide to stay with a tendency. At least you are conscious of what it is, and that’s what you’re doing.”
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