“At the team hotel, the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, the offensive players were greeted at the 11 a.m. meeting with the news that eight new plays were being installed for the game. … They walked through the plays in a hotel ballroom, then ran four or five of them during the game—all for positive yards.” (Peter King)
“I don’t really believe that they have wide receivers or running backs. They just take a bunch of guys that they think are football players and they move them all over the place to get match ups. Their running backs, sometimes they look like wide receivers. Their wide receivers, sometimes they look like running backs. Edelman. Wes Welker, James White, they all kind of look the same playing different positions.”
(This post was originally published on Medium two days ago. It is reproduced here with light editing only.)
How do they do it? How do the New England Patriots win so much?
Yes, Belichick is a genius. Yes, this system is the beneficiary of continuities at owner, coach, quarterback and players other teams can only dream of.
There are lots of answers. Every football fan has pondered them.
But here’s one I hadn’t heard of.
On Get Up (ESPN), Dan Orlovsky said this about the Pats offense.
“I don’t really believe that they have wide receivers or running backs.
They just take a bunch of guys [who are] football players and they move them all over the place to get match ups. Their running backs, sometimes they look like wide receivers. Their wide receivers, sometimes they look like running backs. Edelman, Wes Welker, James White, they all kind of look the same, playing different positions.”
This Belichick innovation is something more than a clever adaptation. It’s exactly the kind of thinking we prize these days. It rises above the architecture of thought and solves a problem in a new way. This is a classic disruption, a veritable black swan. The opposition can’t see it coming until there it is on the field.
Other coaches are prisoners of convention. They start with the positions specified by the age-old architecture of football. They find the players that fit these slots. And only then do they begin the work of strategy and execution.
Belichick’s innovation says, in effect,
“We don’t have positions to fill. We have problems to solve. We have plays to run. We will ask our players to conform to the play…instead of asking the play to conform to conventional thinking. Luckily, we have players so talented they can change their stripes from play to play.”
Has Belichick been reading Complexity theory? It’s possible.
What does the Belichick disruption mean to the rest of us?
Most organizations are slaves to convention. There’s the hierarchy that distributes power. There’s the division of labor that tells people what to do. We ask our personnel to conform to these conventions. Instead of turning them loose to solve the problem at hand.
Why can’t we be more like the Pats?
The photo is public domain.