I think the biggest glaring difference between the 3-4 of old and the 3-4 of now is at the right defensive end spot. Richard Seymour is the old ideal and granted, he was a special player who could not only destroy a blocker but get pressure on the quarterback.
Seymour was 6’6”, 310 pounds. Now we’ll see someone a little more athletic there whether it’s Chandler Jones (6’5”, 265) or we even had Chris Jones (6’1”, 300) there a bit this preseason.
These guys are meant more for pass rush than necessarily being able to “build the wall” as a two-gapper. This is a result of the evolution of the game. The old 3-4 was not a great pass rushing package because you’re essentially just asking three of your front defenders not to get upfield, but to hold their ground.
Now you must have guys who can disrupt the quarterback from your base package, thus a shift in size/style at right defensive end.
Theoretically could they put together a rough version of an old-school two-gap 3-4 with Kelly-Siliga-Wilfork upfront? Yeah, but I don’t think we’ll see that unless a team decides running the ball 50 times is the way to go.
Nothing really, he’s done it every year outside of 2011. What we’re seeing this summer is as straightforward as you can get and their defense during the season is anything but straightforward.
The better question is how many different options they have for their “sub” defense. There are pass rushers, athletes and big bodies of many varieties. The possibilities are limitless and while that makes speculation kind of pointless and overwhelming, it has the same effect on opposing offenses trying to gameplan for what they’re going to see.
Generally, (and ideally) I think the nickel package will feature Wilfork/Siliga for some run protection and then Easley/Jones (maybe even Worthy) in a pass rush role up front.
Or for an all-out pass rush (third and long, where the Pats have struggled) you could pull the run protection and use two of the interior rushers or even slide Chandler inside and put someone like Will Smith/Buchanan outside.
Mayo and Collins will likely be the linebackers, while we might even see Hightower in a rush role, especially if a DPR doesn’t emerge.
Then on the back end you’ve got some options. I think McCourty and Harmon would make a fine two-deep shell, or swap Harmon out for Chung for a little more presence in the box.
These are just some of the things to consider. Lots of options.
I feel obligated to post any defensive scheme article even if it’s kind of missing the forest for the trees. When I started writing about football it was the defensive schematics that really interested me. Watching how Bill Belichick would rebuild his defense post-2007 was a huge impetus for me to follow and study the team.
Now, seven years later, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what Belichick does on defense. Around 2011 I realized that 3-4 or 4-3 is not really that big of a deal.
Here’s the simple facts…
1. From 2000 to 2009 the Patriots spent a good chunk of their defensive snaps in the Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 defense. This 3-4 is a “read-and-react” defense, where the front three “build a wall” by two-gapping and allow the linebackers to make plays. (There are 3-4s like Wade Phillips’ and Dick LeBeau’s that are more “attacking”.)
2. As the game evolved, and passing offenses became more prevalent, the amount of time the Patriots spent in the 3-4 decreased. The pure Fairbanks-Bullough version of it slowly became a specialty package to stop the run. Since 2010 the Patriots are in “sub” defense, with five or more DBs, around 60-65% of the time.
In 2011, due to the lockout, there was limited time to teach the 3-4 defense, so Belichick just used the nickel front (which of course looks like a 4-3) as his teaching defense since that is what they would be in a majority of the snaps anyway.
3. However, the 3-4 remains Belichick’s teaching defense. So it’s what the Pats run in the preseason and training camp to help teach communication and responsibilities. The preseason defensive game plan is as vanilla as it can get, so seeing them in a 3-4 in the summer means little as to what we’re going to get in the fall.
4. The Pats will still run a 3-4 defense but it bears little resemblance to the Fairbanks-Bullough version. Instead of the three down linemen two-gapping, we now have a combination of guys playing single and double gaps. Read this article for more on this.
5. This current “base” defense (which really makes no sense now that we’re really talking only 30-40% of the snaps) is more of a 2-5. This is an effort to get more athletes on the field to stop the pass, instead of big bodies to build a wall and stop the run.
What matters most is gap responsibility, so whether you want to call Ninkovich and Chandler outside linebackers or defensive ends, it doesn’t really make a difference. They are end of the line players and their job remains basically the same whether they’re rushing the passer or dropping into coverage.
The ability to morph between fronts is where the Pats give themselves and advantage.
The game has evolved and so has Bill Belichick’s defense. What has been missing in my estimation is explosive one-gapping defensive tackles like Easley and Jerel Worthy. They had DT’s one-gapping, but often times they were more nose tackle-ish like Wilfork and Kyle Love or defensive end-ish like Tommy Kelly, Brandon Deaderick and Gerard Warren.
Now the Patriots defense has the personnel to literally play any front, or combination of fronts. Believe me when I say this is the first time they’ve EVER had this kind of flexibility. So there’s some truth to the linked Herald to the article.
But still wondering about the 3-4/4-3 debate is an extreme simplification about a minority of the defensive snaps.
-KICKOFF COVERAGE’S: HISTORY OF THE 32 IN 32-
-NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS-
PATRIOTS GO UNDEFEATED IN THE REGULAR SEASON, PATRIOTS GET PENALIZED FOR SPYGATE, GIANTS POP THE BUBBLE ON THE PATRIOTS UNDEFEATED SEASON AS THEY BEAT THE PATS IN THE SUPER BOWL:
After having lost their two starting wide receivers in the previous offseason, the Patriots added Donte’ Stallworth in free agency and traded for Wes Welker and Randy Moss in the spring of 2007; Welker would lead the NFL in receptions in 2007, while Moss would set an NFL record with 23 touchdown catches. The season began with controversy, when in Week 2, head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots were penalized by the NFL for their involvement in the videotaping of opponents’ defensive signals from an unauthorized location in their Week 1 game against the New York Jets, referred to in the press as Spygate. The scandal was uncovered by Jets head coach and former Patriots assistant Eric Mangini. Belichick was fined $500,000, the maximum allowed under league rules, and the Patriots were fined $250,000 and were forced to forfeit their first round pick in the 2008 draft. Despite the media scrutiny, the Patriots continued to gain momentum, winning mid-season games by scores such as 52–7 and 56–10, as quarterback Tom Brady iterated the team’s desire to blow out and “kill teams.”
The Patriots clinched the AFC East before their eleventh game (in Week 12), the fourth time since the NFL introduced the 16-game schedule in 1978 that a team had clinched a division title by its eleventh game. In the season finale, the Patriots looked to finish the regular season with the first 16–0 record in NFL history, and did so successfully. In that game, Brady and Moss connected on two touchdown passes, with Moss setting his 23-touchdown record and Brady setting an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes on the season. It was the first undefeated regular season in the NFL since the 1972 Miami Dolphins finished 14–0. Brady earned his first NFL MVP award, while the Patriots’ offense broke numerous records, including those for points scored and point differential.
With the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots defeated both the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-20 and San Diego Chargers21-12 in order to advance to Super Bowl XLII; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this made them the first professional team since 1884 in any of the four major American sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey) to win the first 18 games of their season. Facing the prospect of a perfect 19–0 season with a victory over the underdog New York Giants, analysts saw the 2007 Patriots as being the greatest team in NFL history.
Despite being the overwhelming favorites in the game, the Patriots had to protect a four-point lead on a Giants drive late in the fourth quarter…
Aaaand we’ll just end it there… Tyree, Burress, 18-1, Spygate, THE END. Greatest team of all time to not win a Super Bowl,
(Low)lights: Patriots vs. Panthers 2013
This was a great game despite the results (i.e. the controversial finish). I try not to complain about losing a game on a non-call but this one was pretty blatant, as much as I love Kuechly as a player.
Should be a great test for the Pats tonight! But of course, most importantly, NO INJURIES!!!
I think the big thing to remember is to win the war, not push it and lose an important piece in a September battle. That said, I’m not sure Belichick is one to tread lightly when players are coming back from injury. If they’re cleared to play they’re going to play as much as they’re capable of, risks be damned.
But is there a universe where I would prefer to see Gronk only in the red zone and third downs with limited in-line blocking opportunities? Sure. But let’s also remember that two of his major injuries came running down the middle of the field and another came while simply blocking an extra point.
Given the Pats lack of depth at tight end it’s not quite that easy to protect him. In a perfect world, they would’ve added a big Y tight end to spell Gronk but that was not to be. Instead we can only hope that Hoomanawanui gets back to full health and is able to help prevent Gronk from getting thrown right into the fire.
Maybe Welker’s 2010 (subscription required) can provide a little insight since he was also coming off a late-season ACL tear.
Nice summation of where everyone is at from Mike Loyko. As much sense as it all makes right now you never know where the shocking cut and/or addition will come from. And to be sure, something shocking will happen before the season starts, it always does.
One of my all-time favorite seasons, one where I finally got see Brady in person both in the opener vs. Buffalo and the huge upset in San Diego which remains the best fan experience of my life. They weren’t the most talented Pats team but they certainly had heart.
-KICKOFF COVERAGE’S: HISTORY OF THE 32 IN 32-
-NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS-
PATRIOTS WIN THEIR FOURTH STRAIGHT AFC EAST TITLE, LOSE TO THE COLTS IN THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP:
The Patriots entered the 2006 season without their two starting wide receivers from 2005; David Givens left in free agency, while Deion Branch held out for a new contract before being traded to Seattle in early September. Eventually replacing them were Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, who was signed as a street free agent in October. Back-to-back losses in November ended the team’s streak of 57 games without consecutive losses, three games shy of the NFL record. With a 12–4 record and their fourth straight division title, the Patriots entered the playoffs as the #4 seed, defeating the New York Jets 37-16 in the Wild Card Playoffs. A close 24-21 win over the top-seeded San Diego Chargers on the road set the Patriots up to face their rival, the Indianapolis Colts, in the AFC Championship. Despite opening up a 21–3 lead in the 2nd quarter, the Patriots stumbled down the stretch at the RCA Dome, and the Colts emerged with a 38–34 victory.