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Bill Belichick explains why the Patriots change their defense every week

The Patriots head coach draws up a different defense for every opponent. Here’s why.

The Seattle Seahawks play their Cover Three and the Denver Broncos love to beat up on opposing offenses, and New England Patriots fans wish their defense played the same way. When you have talent like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins and Jabaal Sheard and Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty and, and, and, and...why can’t the defense dictate the game?

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick sees it differently. He’s not going to play a 4-3 defense just to say he played a 4-3. He’s not going to ask the cornerbacks to play man all game just so they can say they played man. He’s going to mix it up because the opposing offense is going to be different every week.

“When you coach defense you don’t have any control over what the other team calls,” Belichick said on Wednesday. “You have to just defend whatever they do. You can’t really worry about it. If they want to run it every time, they can run it. If they want to throw it every team, they can throw it. If they want to split it in half, they can split it in half. You don’t have any control over that.”

Belichick highlighted a time in 1990 when he changed the Giants defensive alignments every week in the playoffs, from 4-3 against the Bears, to 3-4 against the 49ers, and to 3-3-nickel against the Bills in the Super Bowl. There is no higher leverage point in the season than the playoffs and Belichick had his defense change their strategy every week.

This sounds like how the Patriots offense changed their strategy every single week in the 2014 playoffs en route to winning Super Bowl XLIX. If it works for the offense, then why not for the defense?

“[The defensive scheme is] a matter of matchups,” Belichick added. “I mean you can, you know, you can run a play out of your run defense all you want and if the team is a spread attack, misdirection team that’s going to put the ball in space all the time then I think that’s stupid. Why would you do that? It doesn’t fit the team that you’re playing, so I personally would never advocate doing that; just doing something to do it. I don’t know. What’s that accomplish?

“My feeling is to try and win the game. I don’t know. That doesn’t really fit into everybody else’s agenda but I’m just trying to win the game. So what do we need to do to win? That’s what we’re going to do to win, period.”

And so the Patriots will drop back seven or eight into coverage against young and inexperienced quarterbacks and force them to string together 10+ play drives to score. And that’s why the Patriots won’t send a dangerous pass rush against a mobile quarterback on the chance they escape and pick up a huge gain.

And that’s why the Patriots defense can seem infuriating on a weekly basis. It’s like the Patriots are allowing the opposing offense to dictate the terms of the game, despite the defense having the talent to dominate out of the coin toss.

But, as Belichick said, he’s not going to play the same defense every week because that makes them vulnerable to future offenses. Teams can scheme when they know how the other team will try to defend. The Patriots don’t want the other team to know how they will be defended.

“You always try to play good defense, try to stop the run, try to turn the ball over, try to get off the field on third-down, play good red-area defense,” Belichick said. “I mean it’s just like every time you get the ball on offense. You try to score points. If we weren’t trying to score points we’d just send the punt team out there and just give it back to them.

“If we weren’t trying to play good defense, if we weren’t trying to stop them every time we go out on the field, what’s the point of sending them out there? We might as well send the punt return team out there if that’s what it’s going to be. Yeah, we’re trying to do that every single time we go out on the field. Like why else would the defense go out there? They go out there to stop them.”

The Rams have a young quarterback so you can be certain that the Patriots will be dropping seven or eight into coverage, with an occasional third down blitz by Dont’a Hightower up the middle. There’s no need to play a defense that could risk RB Todd Gurley or WR Tavon Austin scoring touchdown on a single play, when the Patriots are confident they can hold the Rams to under 20 points by making them lead extend drives.

Belichick is always going to play the matchups and he’s going to make Goff win the game.