New England Patriots: Looking at What Keeps the Patriots on Top of the NFL

Wes StueveContributor IIIAugust 13, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on against the New York Giants during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

When someone hears about the New England Patriots, a number of things may come to mind. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Spygate, cheaters, annoying.

Winners. Dynasty.

The Patriots have battled their way to the playoffs nine of the past 11 seasons, winning at least nine games each year.

Eleven straight winning seasons.

The Patriots also appeared in five Super Bowls, winning three over the same time frame. 

Clearly, New England is doing something right. That type of success isn't exactly commonplace.

But what is it that continually puts the Patriots atop the NFL? Is it coaching, personnel moves or one historically dominant player?

The answer is yes. To all three.

No team could possibly be this successful through just one means. It is always a combination of factors that leads to greatness.

The simple fact is that the Patriots do a lot right. They do a lot that other teams haven't figured out or are unable to replicate. That's what makes them unique.

While other teams have risen and fallen, the Patriots have remained steady at the top of the NFL. And there lies the reasoning for the analysis of what the team does right.



It all starts with Bill Belichick. Call him what you want—cheater, arrogant and jerk are commonly used words—but he's one of the greatest minds and coaches in NFL history.

Belichick has at times ran both the Patriots offense and defense while managing the entire team. And both units have found great success.The Patriots won their first three Super Bowls relying on their defense but made their final two appearances because of their offense (maybe defense truly does win championships).

The legendary coach has also shown remarkable schematic flexibility. For much of his tenure in Boston, Belichick famously utilized the 3-4 defense. Recently, however, Belichick has become increasingly more reliant on the 4-3.

When Belichick first began running the 3-4, it was a rare scheme. Offenses weren't used to it, and it was easy to find schematic fits. Belichick was taking advantage of the opportunities in a 4-3-prevalent league.

Now, nearly half the league uses the 3-4 as their main defense. Others use it in small dosages.

Belichick found that 3-4 player fits were increasingly more difficult to find and that offenses were used to the scheme. So he went away from it, showing a rare ability among coaches to change schemes.

An easy way to see how elite of a coach Belichick is in the NFL is to look at his coaching tree. He has produced Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels, Nick Saban and Jim Schwartz.

Okay, there are a few failures in there, but maybe that's the point. Belichick runs things in New England, and his coordinators have struggled away from him.

Many of the head coaches off the Belichick tree have tried to be Belichick. McDaniels and Mangini certainly tried to build their own versions of the Patriots, with less-than-stellar success.

Belichick remains one of the NFL's most brilliant coaches ever, and thus far, no one has been able to duplicate his methods.


Tom Brady

This one is pretty simple. Over the past decade, the Patriots have had one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL.

And as everyone knows, a Hall of Fame quarterback almost always means Super Bowls. 

Brady was just a sixth-round pick out of Michigan in 2000 (as you may have heard), but at age 35, he is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Brady has consistently put up great numbers, and his 2007 campaign remains one of the greatest single seasons ever.

Though Brady was more of a game manager in the early parts of his career, he has developed into the team's main reason for success.

The Patriots pass more than nearly any other team in the NFL, and Brady has often been without great weapons, though that has not been the case recently.

What is it that makes Brady so good? It's pretty simple, really. A combination of great arm strength, ideal size, elite accuracy, incredible pocket presence and mind-boggling intelligence. Nothing too impressive, honestly.

As great as the Patriots are in many ways, a horribly run team could win with Brady at quarterback. He will dominate even with little talent around him.


Personnel Moves

Unlike many successful teams, the Patriots don't acquire nearly all their talent through the draft. New England actually utilizes free agency and the trade market.

It was through a trade that the Patriots acquired Randy Moss in 2007. Moss then went on to have what was arguably the greatest receiving season in history.

Another notable acquisition was the trade for Corey Dillon prior to 2004. Dillon rushed 1,635 yards in his first season with the team.

Then there is the more recent example of Wes Welker. New England traded for Welker before most people had even heard of him. Welker has caught 554 passes for 6,105 yards in the five years since.

Through free agency the Patriots have usually acquired role players rather than starters. This has often been successful, however, and in 2011 the team had two recent low-key acquisitions put up double-digit sacks.

With all this said, New England is most famous for its drafting strategy. Most notably the team's tendency to trade back for multiple—and often future—picks.

In fact, the Patriots entered the draft with at least two first-round picks every year since 2008, when they forfeited a first-rounder because of the infamous Spygate.

This acquisition of many picks is often called the volume strategy. The idea is that if they have many picks, the Patriots will hit on some of them.

This unusual strategy hasn't always worked, but it has led to players like Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo and Aaron Hernandez.

Bill Belichick has, of course, been the man in charge of all this. However, for many years, Belichick was aided by Scott Pioli, who is now the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs.

And though Belichick has certainly had his fair share of success in the personnel department, the team's drafting has fallen off a bit since Pioli's departure in 2009.

When the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2001, it was because of brilliant coaching, a fairly talented roster and an incredibly smart roster.

The team has maintained its success through a variety of ways. There have been more cerebral New England teams, but there have also been physically dominant rosters like the 2007 team.

New England has continued to add and develop talent, and Bill Belichick hasn't given up his brilliant ways. Tom Brady has put together a Hall of Fame career at quarterback.

This is how dynasties happen.


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