“I’m seeing ghosts.”
Those words muttered by Sam Darnold made national headlines after an 86-yard, four-interception performance in 2019. Darnold has since left the division and joined the NFC South, but a new rookie in the Big Apple, Zach Wilson, this week delivered another four-pick performance for Gang Green, posing the question: Is Bill Belichick the ultimate challenge for any rookie QB?
Belichick’s defenses are pretty good in general, but it seems like they turn up a notch whenever they face a rookie QB.
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Do the Patriots play defense differently vs. rookies?
Bill Belichick has always run a man-heavy scheme, relying on his corners to stop opposing wide receivers. In particular, he loves to run Cover 1, which has been his most common coverage since 2016 with over 1,300 snaps. In theory, defensive coordinators want to try confuse opposing rookie quarterbacks as much as possible. They can do this by showing exotic fronts, stunting edge rushers or playing different defenses than what they show on tape.
Looking back at Belichick’s track record against rookies, it's obvious he favors playing more zone against them. Cover-3 stands out as the coverage he uses most often versus rookies compared to other quarterbacks.
This could partly be due to the idea that Cover 1 and Cover 3 both usually start out of a single-high safety pre-snap look. Since rookie quarterbacks might believe the Patriots are playing man instead of zone, the QB could end up calling an audible or just a wrong play that leaves them locked onto a target.
This was Wilson's fourth interception of the day. It's impressive to see how Belichick makes Wilson think on the play.