Publicly, Bill Belichick dismisses analytics

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick has never been in the business of publicly discussing his strategies. So when he dismisses analytics, that dismissal needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Belichick was asked today how much consideration he gives to analytics when deciding whether to go for two or go for it on fourth down, and he answered, “Less than zero.” He added that “Analytics is not really my thing.”

That’s long been Belichick’s public talking point; in 2016 he scoffed at analytics websites by saying, “I’ve never looked at one. I don’t even care to look at one. I don’t care what they say.”

But while Belichick rarely uses the buzzword “analytics” as anything other than a pejorative, it’s clear from studying the Patriots that they do, in fact, think about statistical analysis in sophisticated ways. In fact, Belichick’s Patriots have consistently been ahead of the curve on statistical analysis, and when other teams have gotten the best of them — such as the Eagles in the Super Bowl two seasons ago — it’s often because those teams are relying on analytics as well.

One of Belichick’s most trusted advisors is Ernie Adams, the Patriots’ football research director, who was a municipal bonds trader before he worked for Belichick, first in Cleveland and then in New England. Many of the methods that sports statistical analysts use are rooted in the same methods used to analyze economic data. Adams understands both, and that makes him valuable to Belichick.

Looking at Belichick’s strategies, it’s clear that he thinks along the same lines as analytics experts. In the NFL draft, Belichick prefers trading down to trading up, and he particularly likes to trade a pick this year for a higher pick next year. That suggests that he’s studied the economic phenomenon of hyperbolic discounting.

On the sideline, the most controversial call of Belichick’s career appeared to be influenced by analytics: When Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28-yard line in a 2009 game against the Colts, it was the analytics people who said he had made the mathematically correct decision, while most football fans and media members thought Belichick had lost his mind.

That approach to analytics goes to the very top of the organization. The Patriots’ official website wrote in 2016 that “You may not find a bigger believer in data and analytics than New England Patriots Owners Robert Kraft.”

A belief in analytics runs deep within the Patriots organization. Belichick isn’t in the business of announcing that publicly, but there’s little doubt that he has a firm grasp of analytics.

69 responses to “Publicly, Bill Belichick dismisses analytics

  1. Its just another tool for Bill, not the central way of determining what play is called or how to game plan for a given team. Earnie Adams is the one who spends his time crunching numbers so Bill doesn’t have to. I have no doubt that if Adams is strongly urging Bill to do something that Belichick will take that advice very seriously.

  2. He is right. Getting data based on metrics after the fact tells you things too late.

    He is also saying that if you let analytics, exclusively, guide you in how to operate, you have absolutely no idea about your own vision or what you are doing in general.

  3. I’ve always felt that BB will coach the Patriots for as long as Ernie Adams is with the team. Ernie Adams has a direct connection to BB’s headset during games.

  4. Belichicks “analytics” are probably experience based coupled with what he sees in the game at the moment, and a dude named Ernie. I bet if the numbers show on a 4th and 1 the odds of success are higher with the run, but BB sees the opposing team add more run stuffing linebackers and a rookie CB who plays with a big cushion – he probably goes pass and to hell with analytics.

  5. That said, there is nothing wrong with referencing the numbers and using them to get specific data very quickly. It still will always matter what you do/how to apply the info you get, though.

    The term itself has become an overrated buzz word. It is just that metrics can be gathered faster today than ever before.

  6. The major issue with using analytics to determine your next play call or how to set the defense is they don’t factor in momentum and injuries that is why the coaches that live by them fail so much.

  7. What BB probably means is that “analytics” (i.e., data about players) as HE uses them as part of an overall matrix of coaching and personnel decisions is markedly different than how others might use or weigh them. He also may have been referring to “analytics” as they are used by armchair internet GMs who have little to no experience in the NFL. In other words, of course BB uses statistical information, he just doesn’t do it the way others do, or he doesn’t care what other people conclude from the statistics. Remember Mark Twain’s manta about statistics. It applies to football analytics as well.

  8. If everyone uses analytics, every team would go 8-8. They’d all have the same information. Analytics are for people who would love to be 8-8. Belichick is only into winning super bowls, so he doesn’t need that stuff. He has studied football long enough to know better. But if you’re on a losing team, and using the term analytics will help you keep your job, then go for it. The only person you have to fool is your owner, and a lot of owners these days are clueless. That’s also part of the reason BB has 6 rings.

  9. Football is not baseball. Each team in baseball plays 162 games x 9 innings. There are literally 10s of thousands of data points. Football teams play 16 games, there’s not nearly enough statistically significant data.

    Not to mention football is way more situational than your average baseball game. The data guys are constantly harping that coaches should go for it more on 4th down rather than punt. Sure. But going for 4th and 2 from your own 1 yard line is way different than going for it on your own 45, or your opponent’s 20. Down, distance, yardage, field postion, score, and time remaining are all factors in a football game.

  10. Analytics are just a small piece of the puzzle. Sports fans that base their entire opinion on analytics are the most annoying group of fans in all of sports.

    And Ernie Adams is no wizard that people make him out to be. I’ve read a couple of books on the Patriots and he’s just another good football man, but not the mastermind that New England fans like to portray him as. He has a direct line to Bill on the sidelines and he guess whether the opposing offense is running a run or play and he’s barely above 50% on his guesses.

  11. Bill’s not going to tell you jack. “We’ve heard you use some passwords at the front line. Could you give us an example of some of those?” His job is not to field a good team, reward players for a great year, or say (much) to the media. It’s to win the Super Bowl.
    On the flip side, by not going for 3 a couple times in the AFC game against the Colts a few years ago – when Manning was playing terribly in the second half – cost him another trip to the Super Bowl.

  12. That 4th and 2 call will be debated forever. BB thought he had a better chance of gaining 2 yards and a first down (game over) than he had of stopping Peyton Manning from marching down the field. You can argue it either way.

    If that choice were offered prior to the game- you can have one play, gain 2 yards and you win or you can play the entire game and stop Manning while scoring more- what would you do? I think I choose one play.

  13. The other thing about the 4th and 2 that I would imagine factored into his decision, but not into analytics, was they flat out could not stop the Colts late in that game. Giving them the ball back, even with the extra 40 yrds, was not an option. They had a good call, the Colts just made the play. Bad spot though.

  14. carloswlassiter says:
    September 27, 2019 at 12:58 pm
    I have to say it is very odd watching Doug Pederson go for 2 when his team is up by 7, but as the greatest coach of all time I’m sure he knows what he is doing.
    ————————————————————————
    Pederson clearly went for 2 to make it a 2-score (9 point) game. Makes sense to me.

  15. It’s analytics with context and situationally based. Most number crunchers, looking at your John Harbaugh, going strictly by numbers based on a accumulative result over a long period of time. But when a game is on the line, you have to look at the situation in the moment before making a decision. That’s what separates BB from others.

  16. It’s hilarious that some of the commenters here have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA how “analytics” is actually used.

    It’s just another tool in the toolbox, folks.

  17. Degree in mathematics, made a living as a professional sports gambler and chalked up nearly $2.5 million in Jeopardy winnings. Perhaps the Patriots should hire James Holzhauer. Ernie Adams could use a backup and New England could use a future “starter.” And just think of the “freak out” factor if Belichick made his love of analytics public.

  18. Ernie Adams The Dark Night lurks in the shadows 12 years he was invisible they let him come up from the bunker once and a while

  19. Bill is a huge analytics guy. He always has been. But as a person he’s very different publicly then he is privately.

    NFL head coaches are the ultimate gambler. And any gambler is an analytics guy. You have to be to play the odds. You can’t just get lucky for 40+ years.

  20. It might have been relevant to point out that Belichick majored in Economics at Wesleyan. He absolutely does use statistical analysis as an input to his decision making process, but he recognizes that tempo, matchups and other situational factors are much more critical to proper play-calling.

  21. Those that watched the Colts game you’ve highlighted know that the reason he went for it on 4th down was that the defense hadn’t stopped Peyton all game, was completely gassed and giving him the ball back was a surefire way to lose the game.

    But hey, that’s too obvious, let’s go with “analytics”

  22. Don’t forget Ernie is primarily an offense guy, I doubt he’s the secret guru on D, and don’t forget BB’s (pre Ernie) defensive genius was what won those two Giants titles for Parcells.

    Also, BB does use analytics in the sense he runs plays to screw with other teams’ analytics – Chris Simms pointed this out with regard to Pats running that Edelman trick pass in week 1.

  23. Ok, doesn’t phase me one way or the other how he feels about analytics…. I just care that he’s right more often than not……whatever approach he chooses to embrace seems to work so I guess that’s what really matters.
    Call it what you will, He’s smarter than most & it shows…. works for me!!!!
    Go Pats!!!!

  24. He prefers mind control and cognitive coercion, which causes opposing coaches like Pete Carroll, Sean McVay, Andy Reid, Mike Martz, and Mike Tomlin to wet their pants and fumble big games. Side benefit? His mental judo sends NFL execs like Mike Kensil out to sea on long foreign journeys of madness, never to return again.

  25. Belichick is very much into analytics.

    He has his own staff and doesn’t use commercial websites.
    And there are a couple of good schools near him and the Sloan Sports conference so I’m sure analysis ideas come his way.

    He’s done this for many years.

  26. The opposite of “analytics” is “gut.” It is time we do away with the term “analytics” and replace it with a better fitting term “evidence-based.”

  27. elyasm says:
    September 27, 2019 at 2:33 pm
    It might have been relevant to point out that Belichick majored in Economics at Wesleyan. He absolutely does use statistical analysis as an input to his decision making process, but he recognizes that tempo, matchups and other situational factors are much more critical to proper play-calling.


    Brady was an economics and business major too — and at least one of his professors says he had an exceptional grasp of economics and data. Makes sense that he’d be a precision-playbook guy.

  28. I thought Bill used soft footballs to win, or dumpster diving for playbooks to win, or drones over the opposing teams practices to win, or intercepted sideline communications to win, or bugged locker rooms to win, or illegal formations to win. Which one is it haters you can’t have it every which way you have to pick one or the other, or maybe you’ll just have to admit that Bill is the greatest coach of all time. Oh no we can’t do that we’d rather cry and whine all of the time..Yea you’re right keep crying and here’s some milk and cookies

  29. Bob. Just Bob. says:
    September 27, 2019 at 3:44 pm
    If Belichick admitted to using analytics, the NFL would move to make it illegal.

    4 0 Rate This

    ———————

    LOL!

    But only for the Pats. And, Goodell would still find a way to frame, regardless.

  30. EightRings says:
    September 27, 2019 at 3:02 pm
    He prefers mind control and cognitive coercion, which causes opposing coaches like Pete Carroll, Sean McVay, Andy Reid, Mike Martz, and Mike Tomlin to wet their pants and fumble big games. Side benefit? His mental judo sends NFL execs like Mike Kensil out to sea on long foreign journeys of madness, never to return again.

    8 0 Rate This

    ———————-

    Quadruple LOL!

    THe BB Mind-Meld is epic. It should be captured somehow and put into Canton for all to see.

  31. Of course he uses analytics, but on game day he’s obsessed with watching the opposing coach.

    He knows his team is prepared and he’s like a predator looking for any weakness or confusion from his opponent.

    See: Pete Caroll, Sean McVay, Mike Tomlin, any Chargers coach

  32. The other thing about the 4th and 2 that I would imagine factored into his decision, but not into analytics, was they flat out could not stop the Colts late in that game. Giving them the ball back, even with the extra 40 yrds, was not an option. They had a good call, the Colts just made the play. Bad spot though.

    Fanboys cant make a comment without whining about the Refs…..nothing new here.

  33. This man is the king of media manipulation. He doesn’t ive the media anything more to chew on then what he wants to feed them. He came from the TOM LANDRY TREE. Many people forget that. Tom Landry taught his assistance everything THEY knew about coaching. But he didn’t teach them everything HE knew about coaching because he knew someday they may use his ‘tendencies” to defeat him. If anyone ever got more out of someone then Bill Bel got out of Tom Brady then pick my lottery numbers for me. By the way… I can’t stand the Patriots but I so respect what they have done. They did as much with that ‘Tuck Rule” as the Steelers did with Franco’s ‘Immaculate Reception”. One play turned those franchises around. It must have been a rush for the players and coaches.

  34. Steeler fans can’t make a comment without whining about the Pats or their fans. What’s left when the steelers season is ovah after week 3, after getting destroyed in wk 1?

  35. Vasteelerfan says:
    September 27, 2019 at 12:36 pm
    Grumpy Old Cheating Bill is telling you to get off his lawn …..now.

    ———-

    Cheating? Do you mean like a coach tripping a player on the opposing team during a return?

  36. Fanboys cant make a comment without whining about the Refs…..nothing new here.

    =====

    Steelerfanboy cant make a comment without whining about the Pats dominating the NFL…nothing new here.

  37. Geez, they MADE the 4th and 2, but there was a bad spot and the Pats had wasted their last timeout a play earlier, so they couldn’t challenge on a play before the 2-minute warning.

    I ‘member…..

  38. BB coached both the greatest defensive player (Lawrence Taylor) and the greatest offensive player (Tom Brady) of all time. 8 super bowl rings later and some people still think this is all a coincidence. Funny stuff.

  39. Vasteelerfan says:
    September 27, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Fanboys cant make a comment without whining about the Refs…..nothing new here.
    ————————————————————————-
    Hategirls cant read a patriots articles without posting nonsense…nothing new here.

  40. BB’s brain is the ultimate logarithm for football . Unlike the other programs, can’t be hacked or copied.

  41. Vasteelerfan says:
    September 27, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Grumpy Old Cheating Bill is telling you to get off his lawn …..now.
    Hard to change an old cheaters mind, but its fun to watch.
    —————————————————————
    It seems that steeler fans lack the mental capacity to understand that there is no disadvantage to moving a camera with a zoom lens 30 feet further from the field. Grumpy Goodell felt disrespected when Bill ignored his memo. The Patriots were then over punished. The media beat up the patriots so bad that 12 years later many dimwits still believe that Bill cheated.

  42. Greatest coach in the 100 year history of the NFL and it’s not particularly close anymore. If he announced he didn’t believe in cleats anymore, third raters like Tomlin and Harbaugh would show up barefooted.

  43. Meh BS, Belichick has admitted to calling particular plays in particular situations just to screw up the analytics.

  44. Steve van Raay says:
    September 27, 2019 at 7:08 pm
    Analytics are for coaches who can’t cheat.
    ————————————————
    About the same as saying….Analytics are for coaches who can’t use magic.
    Believing that games are won by “cheating” is for those who watch football games but can’t understand anything about the games. Football is just too complicated for a few, so they had to invent something simple to allow them to pretend to understand.

  45. You just now figuring this out? He’s an economist and so is ernie. Ernie made a big ole pile in the bond market. They have been chumping the other 31 teams forever.

  46. As a head coach, Belichick had a losing record with the Browns and was fired for that. His only success as a head coach has been with Brady. He will retire with Brady to preclude being exposed as the coach he was without Brady…..a losing record. Therefore his method is Brady….not much thought needed beyond that, speaks for itself.

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