The Belichick “Hybrid”
There’s no simple diagram or playbook quirk that defines Belichick’s scheme. Rather, it’s the complete lack of one. Belichick, in a very short span of time early in his career, was introduced to many different defensive schemes at the professional level. Belichick was exposed to Maxie Baughan, who ran George Allen’s complex 4-3 scheme that was full of pre-snap adjustments. He briefly coached with Fritz Shurmur, who would follow Allen (and others) who used a lot of nickel schemes as a base defense. He worked with Joe Collier, who turned a troublesome set of injuries to his front seven into Denver’s vaunted Orange Crush - maybe the original multiple-front scheme. All of that before gaining fame and respect under Bill Parcells and the true 3-4 in New England and New York.
The key to the success of Belichick’s style of play is flexibility of personnel. To be able to effectively switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to a dime defense and all points in-between requires versatility at nearly every position. Players have to be able to run and cover and hit. Linemen have to be strong enough to hold the point in the 3-4, but get upfield in a 4-3. Defensive backs have to be very good in zone coverage but competent in man coverage when needed. It requires a special skill set, but also an above-average football IQ. Compared to the base Dungy-Kiffin scheme, which likely started with as little as three or four fronts and a couple of zone coverages, Belichick’s hybrid is a maze meant to confuse and confound.
Another important difference in Belichick’s defense is philosophical rather than playbook. Most coordinators identify the weaknesses of an upcoming opponent and gameplan to take advantage. Belichick specifically seeks to take away the strength of an offense, forcing them to operate out of their comfort zone. In a league where you may face a power offense one week and a spread offense the next, the versatility of the multiple front playbook is the only way to pull off such a philosophy.
Three paragraphs and nary a playbook diagram may not seem like we’re shorting one of the most successful playbooks of all time. But consider that nearly everything we’ve discussed and will discuss before we’re through just scratches the surface of Belichick’s playbook. In reality, there’s not a revolutionary innovation to highlight. It’s the versatility and philosophy and depth in gameplanning and having the players to execute that vision that makes the scheme work.