Yet another example from Reiss of why nickel is the new base. As you can see from the percentages below the Pats had extra DBs on the field for more than 50% of the snaps against all AFC East rivals, including almost 92% of the time against the Bills.
- Bills — 126 of 137 (91.9 percent)
- Dolphins — 95 of 144 (65.9 percent)
- Jets — 71 of 126 (56.3 percent)
The biggest difference from building a 3-4 base defense and building a nickel is in the front seven, obviously. You can see from the Pats draft approach this year especially that they are getting away from filling the nose tackle/ five technique traditional defensive line positions. Now it’s about getting versatile defensive ends who can stand up against the run, but get after the passer on every down.
The true strength of the Pats defense is of course Vince Wilfork and his ability to dominate inside. I believe the Pats defensive fortunes this year heavily depend on their ability to not only hold up inside against the run but moreso get after the passer, especially on obvious passing down situations.
The Pats struggled at times the last couple years stopping runs against their sub defense, but really the bigger problem was generating that push up the middle. There are quite a few players on the roster now who could fill that role like Jonathan Fanene and Myron Pryor (if healthy), both of whom would be the top choices. But keep an eye out for rookie Justin Francis, who by all beat reporter accounts has looked good in multiple spots.
The Pats cannot afford to have another year of no push up the middle.