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Bill Belichick Versus Rookie Quarterbacks

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Bill Belichick is often lauded as a defensive genius. How does he fare against the inexperienced quarterback?

Nick Laham

Ignorance is bliss. Dumb luck. Better to be lucky than good. Whatever.

Bill Belichick is a supreme defensive mastermind who should have no problem dismantling a rookie quarterback. The rookie shouldn't be able to keep up with sophisticated defenses. Shouldn't be able to process the open reads. Shouldn't even have a chance to play the deep ball.

You know how Belichick overthought week 1 against the Dolphins? How he played a 260 pound edge rusher at 3-4 defensive end to no success, and just didn't adjust during the game?

Buckle-up. That's how he plays rookies.

Belichick often holds back the pass rush in favor of more sophisticated coverage looks, in the hopes of intercepting errant passes. He won't overcommit with the pass rush because young quarterbacks just don't have the recognition ability to dissect opposing defenses; they'll always end up making mistakes. The goal is to have as many players in coverage to take advantage of the mistakes.

Of the 16 games against rookie quarterbacks (minimum 10 passing attemps) in the Belichick-era, New England holds an 11-5 record. Prior to last season's bizarre Chris Jones field-goal-push-play, the team was on a five game winning streak. Of the four other losses, two were to Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson. Another was Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez.

The last was Colt McCoy- a game that, prior to the week 1 disaster to Miami, was the last time the Patriots had lost a regular season game by more than one score.

In these 16 games, Patriot defenses have picked off 22 passes. No rookie quarterback has beaten the Patriots when averaging under 7.0 passing yards per attempt.

Four of the five quarterbacks who posted a passer rating of 100.0 or greater beat the Patriots; the lone figure being E.J. Manuel, whom the Patriots need a last second drive to beat in the opening week.

The game is pretty simple. If the rookie quarterback plays like a bad quarterback, the Patriots will win. An easy counter is for the Raiders to not make rookie quarterback Derek Carr win the game. Wilson is really the only quarterback who posted game changing stats (293 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions). Roethlisberger, McCoy, and Sanchez all threw for under 200 yards in their victories; more importantly, they didn't turn the ball over.

Rookie quarterbacks are 4-3 when they don't throw and interception. They're 1-8 when they throw a pick (Geno Smith and the field goal exception).

You'll hear that the Patriots have not lost to a rookie at home (they boast a 6-0 record in this scenario). The eight best passer ratings have all come away from New England. But that will mean nothing if the Patriots don't treat Carr like a legitimate quarterback.

Come Sunday, you'll see the Patriots sit back into their coverage and challenge Carr. They need to rush him, confound him, and, yes, take advantage of his bad throws. The Raiders have allowed Carr to "dink-and-dunk" in the first two weeks; they won't be asking him to beat the Patriots with his arm. If they want him to make a bad decision, they'll have to force him into a bad situation.

Let's hope the Patriots don't sit back in their coverage until late in the game. Let's hope they play attacking defense and build a big scoring difference that forces the Raiders to sling the ball late in the game. Let's hope the coaches make the necessary adjustments.

Belichick isn't infallible against rookie quarterbacks. Hopefully on Sunday he won't have to be.

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Here's a list of games against rookie quarterbacks with 10+ passing attempts:

Rk Player Date Tm Result Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Y/A
1 Russell Wilson 10/14/2012 @SEA W 24-23 16 27 59.3% 293 3 0 133.7 10.9
2 Ben Roethlisberger 10/31/2004 @PIT W 34-20 18 24 75.0% 196 2 0 126.4 8.2
3 EJ Manuel 9/8/2013 @BUF L 21-23 18 27 66.7% 150 2 0 105.5 5.6
4 Colt McCoy 11/7/2010 @CLE W 34-14 14 19 73.7% 174 0 0 101.6 9.2
5 Mark Sanchez 9/20/2009 @NYJ W 16-9 14 22 63.6% 163 1 0 101.1 7.4
6 Luke McCown 12/5/2004 @CLE L 15-42 20 34 58.8% 277 2 2 80.1 8.1
7 Geno Smith 10/20/2013 @NYJ W 30-27 17 33 51.5% 233 1 1 71.9 7.1
8 Ryan Tannehill 12/2/2012 @MIA L 16-23 13 29 44.8% 186 0 0 66.2 6.4
9 Ryan Tannehill 12/30/2012 MIA L 0-28 20 35 57.1% 235 0 1 65.8 6.7
10 Byron Leftwich 12/14/2003 JAX L 13-27 21 40 52.5% 288 1 2 63.3 7.2
11 Andrew Luck 11/18/2012 IND L 24-59 27 50 54.0% 334 2 3 63.2 6.7
12 Trent Edwards 9/23/2007 BUF L 7-38 10 20 50.0% 97 0 1 43.1 4.9
13 Vince Young 12/31/2006 @TEN L 23-40 15 36 41.7% 227 0 2 39.9 6.3
14 Mark Sanchez 11/22/2009 NYJ L 14-31 8 21 38.1% 136 1 4 37.1 6.5
15 Joey Harrington 11/28/2002 @DET L 12-20 22 44 50.0% 210 0 3 35.2 4.8
16 Geno Smith 9/12/2013 NYJ L 10-13 15 35 42.9% 214 0 3 27.6 6.1