Bill Belichick vs. Bill O'Brien: Patriots at odds over coaching strategy

Bill O'Brien is trying to run an offense for the New England Patriots that doesn't match what head coach Bill Belichick is trying to do.
Bill Belichick VS Bill O'Brien: Patriots at odds over coaching strategy
Bill Belichick VS Bill O'Brien: Patriots at odds over coaching strategy / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

A seesaw on a school playground is the perfect metaphor for the balance of NFL coaching strategies within a team. In order for one side to go up, the other side must go down. A perfect, symbiotic relationship between give and take.

If both sides try to go up, or both sides try to go down, the ride breaks in half. The New England Patriots currently find head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien at opposite ends of their seesaw. Both sides are trying to go up, and they are breaking the team.

The Patriots offense strategy isn't working with their defensive strategy right now

What Patriots fans have learned about Bill Belichick over the years is that he values defense over offense. This makes sense since he won a Super Bowl as a defensive coordinator when the Patriots were still talking about moving to St Louis.

As the general manager of the team, he’s invested in defense first, and the offense gets the scraps. Even Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in history, found himself taking pay cuts year after year. Those savings did not go into the offensive weapons he craved, but rather into the defensive backs and linebackers that Belichick coveted.

For the most part, this strategy has worked. The Patriots have gone to nine Super Bowls and hoisted six banners. It worked because Tom Brady understood what he had to sacrifice to make it work. When your team is built around defense, the offense has only one job, and it’s not to score points. It’s to protect the ball. This is generally achieved by having a quarterback hand the ball off, pass off of play-action, and be a game manager. This is the reason that Patriots haters say things like, “Tom Brady is just a system quarterback.”

Despite a formula that’s worked for decades, with unprecedented success, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is under the impression that a team built around defense can try to be the league's top-scoring offense.

In both games the Patriots have played (and lost by the way), he has had his quarterback out there in empty backfield sets, with four and five receivers. Mac Jones threw 54 passes in Week 1 and 42 in the Patriots' Week 2 loss to the Dolphins. His 96 combined attempts lead the NFL. O’Brien is trying to get his Pinto to perform like a Ferrari, and he clearly doesn’t have the parts.

You need certain elements to play offense like that. First of all, you need an elite quarterback or a young quarterback with an elite arm. Mac Jones is neither of those things.

You also need offensive weapons on the outside, like the Dolphins, Eagles, and Bengals have. The Patriots have a pair of sixth-round picks out there. This is because Bill Belichick prioritized a “win-by-defense” philosophy. He invested his picks and money into run-blocking offensive linemen, running backs, and defensive players.

If Bill O’Brien hands the ball off, like the Patriots of old (they were top-five in carries in the NFL in three of six Super Bowls), and has Mac Jones throw off of play action, and quick slants (no more deep balls with 200-foot apexes), the Patriots have a good enough defense to get to the playoffs, and maybe even to the Super Bowl.

If he continues to try and go up on the seesaw while Belichick tries to go up, this team will finish 5-12 in the very best-case scenario.

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