Bill Belichick has been among the most forward-thinking head coaches in the NFL over the span of his Hall of Fame career. Until now, apparently.
As analytics takes on an increasingly important role in teams’ decision-making, Belichick has suddenly become the most conservative coach in the league. Per the Boston Globe, there have been seven instances throughout the season when Belichick has opted not to go for it on fourth down when analytics said to do so. They have only gone for it on fourth down three times this season — two in garbage time late in the Patriots’ 28-13 loss to the Saints.
Two of the decisions were game-losers. Belichick opted to kick a 56-yard field goal on fourth-and-3 in the rain against the Bucs, which clanged off the upright. Against the Cowboys, he punted in overtime on another fourth-and-3, allowing Dak Prescott to march down the field for a game-winning touchdown.
It’s a stark contrast from Belichick’s coaching history, which was mostly tied to Tom Brady. His Patriots were top-10 in fourth-down attempts eight times from 2000 to 2009, a time when coaches were going for it far less often than they do now. It seems as the rest of the league has moved forward, he has moved backward.
Maybe he doesn’t trust rookie quarterback Mac Jones yet, but whatever the reason, people have noticed.
“The conservatism of the head coach is actually holding this team back,” ESPN personality Mina Kimes said on “NFL Live.”
“His lack of faith, frankly, in the rookie quarterback. You see them opening up the playbook a little bit, but you have to see them make more decisions … He just saw his quarterback make one of the best plays of his entire season so far, that pass to Kendrick Bourne (against the Cowboys). How do you not put faith in his ability to get the fourth down?”
The Patriots are 2-4 and on the fringe of being out of the playoff race just six weeks into the season. They arguably could be 4-2, had Belichick opted to be aggresive in those Tampa Bay and Dallas games. It’s one thing to trust your defense — New England is currently 11th in the league in defensive DVOA — but this was against the Buccaneers and Cowboys, arguably the two best offenses in the league.
It will be interesting to see if he changes course as he gains more trust in Jones. So far, being conservative hasn’t worked out.