Pro Football Focus (or PFF as we insiders call them) is one of the most important resources an NFL writer, or even NFL fans, can utilize. If you use statistics in any way, for work or pleasure, PFF is the bible. They let the numbers do the talking and, as such, are infallible in their rankings.
In an article posted on Thursday, PFF contributor Trevor Sikkema ranks the top defensive coordinators in the NFL, and perched atop the list, looking down at all the other defensive coaches in the NFL, is Belichick. Not Bill, but rather Steve, the Patriots linebackers coach.
Steve has been in his current position since 2020 and calls the defensive plays for New England. Shutting down even the most high-powered offenses, and neutralizing every team's best weapon, apparently runs in the genes.
PFF leans heavily on a deep-cut analytic called “expected points allowed per play” or EPA. In this category, the Patriots led the league in 2022 with a figure of -0.117.
I won’t pretend to understand this metric, but there are some numbers that I, and many, do understand. I think we should look at those since haters, no matter how reliable the source, will call EPA too obscure of an indicator.
I’ll start with how the Patriots pressure the quarterback because nobody in the league does it better.
Last season, they hurried the QB 73 times, which was more than anyone else. This pressure led to 54 sacks (3rd in the NFL) and, more importantly, 19 interceptions (3rd in the NFL).
Takeaways are the name of the game, and nobody has called out that name better than the Patriots over the years. In 2021 they hurried the quarterback 75 times, which led to 23 interceptions (2nd in the NFL).
Over the last two seasons, it’s safe to say that quarterbacks have struggled mightily against the pressure and the well-trained secondary (who Steve Belichick used to coach).
In 2021, opposing quarterbacks' completion percentage was just 59.3% (2nd in the NFL), and 61.1% in 2022.
Quarterback passer rating versus the Patriots in 2021 was 73.3 (2nd in the NFL), and in 2022 that jumped to 83.5, but that is a mere 3 points off being the top spot in the league.
Steve’s genius isn’t just game-planning against quarterbacks, though.
In 2021, the Patriots were 2nd in the league against the run, allowing just 2,103 yards and a league-leading nine rushing touchdowns. Last season, the team allowed only 1,793 yards on the ground and, again, led the league, allowing just seven rushing TDs.
The Patriots have had an embarrassment of riches at the assistant coach position.
Despite what you may think of him as a head coach, Josh McDaniels is the best offensive play caller in the league. I don’t think there’s any doubt that PFF hit the nail on the head with their rankings, as Steve Belichick has followed in his dad's shoes and become the best defensive coordinator in the NFL.