A premature look at the NE Patriots’ changes on D

Is Bill Belichick moving the Patriots away from the 3-4 defense? The buzz in Boston is that they are. Here’s a video clip of Richard Seymour talking about it and excerpts of a Q&A Seymour did with the Boston Globe’s Reiss’s Pieces blog:

To 4-3, or not to 4-3?

To 4-3, or not to 4-3?

4-3 vs. 3-4 defense

“. . . .We have the versatility to play in a lot of different fronts, a lot of different packages, whatever is going to give our team the edge. You know, the offense always knows where the play is going and the snap count, so if we can do some different things on defense to help us out in that process, whether it’s the 3-4 or the 4-3, whatever can give us the best chance to win.” . . . .

Does the 4-3 allow him to stand out as a pass rusher?

“It depends on what we’re executing. It isn’t always about sacks, [that)] can be overrated. It’s about getting pressure on the passer, taking care of your responsibilities first. There’s a time and a place for everything. If it calls for us to penetrate, get in the backfield, then that’s what we’ll do. But sometimes we’ll 2-gap, when playing 4-3 front as well. Some teams have different philosophies, where it’s a 1-gap defense, but we still 2-gap and everybody is responsible for two gaps.”

It’s way too early to tell anything firm (I haven’t even been able to watch the Pats this year yet!), but a few points to remember. One, this is not necessarily a huge change in philosophy. Nick Saban, a Belichick protege, has managed to cycle between being a 4-3 and 3-4 guy as his personnel has dictated, without a lot of changes. Second, a big move these days is the rise of the 4-3 “under” look, where the backside defensive end is some kind of “hybrid” guy who can play either outside linebacker or defensive end. That way a team like the Patriots could still basically play with their usual three linemen — Seymour, Wilfork, and Warren — and the hybrid guy could move seamlessly between being a true 4-3 defensive end or an outside linebacker.


Indeed, in the diagram above of a zone-blitz he drops off. Is he a linemen dropping back, or an outside linebacker? It honestly doesn’t matter too much.

The other thing Seymour mentioned was the use of one-gap or two-gap principles. Most 4-3 teams  consider themselves “one-gap” teams, meaning each guy steps to a gap. A lot of 3-4 teams consider themselves two-gap, which means that, say, a nose guard is responsible for the gap to either side of him. In practice they still will play a one-gap because they will step where the linemen are, but this is an important thing when designing a defense and dictating the angles of the linebackers and safeties when they play run. It sounds to me though that Belichick is comfortable moving between the two somewhat, maybe even on the same look. The old 46 defense that Buddy Ryan used with the Chicago Bears was a one-gap defense where the nose guard was responsible for two gaps. It can be adjusted.

Which leads me to believe that Belichick is primarily just looking for more tools in his belt to be able to throw at people later. The offense should be in solid shape, while the defense saw a fair amount of attrition combined with an influx of new guys that will need to be fit in there, somewhere. It will be interesting to watch, for sure.


Hat tip: PatsPropaganda.

  • Brad

    Wasn’t Belichick a 4-3 guy in Clevland?

    And like you said the Saban LSU playbook shows them playing kind of a hybrid 4-3/3-4 with them two gapping one side of the line and one gapping the other.

    I am guessing in the Pats 3-4 they were allways one gap when they slanted and brought the OLB so the change would only amount to lining guys up in a pre slanted position.

  • stan

    In 1971, The Miami Dolphins under Don Shula came up with their “53” defense, named for OLB Bob Matheson’s number (#53). He was a good pass rusher and came in as an OLB/DE who would either rush or drop.

    A few years ago, Pittsburgh used a 3-2 dime package for most of the second half of a game at Indy with a LB putting his hand on the ground as the right DE. [When was the last time you saw a team use 2 linemen, 3 LBs, and 6 DBs as a standard, every down personnel package in a close game at the start of the 2d half?]

    Versatile LBs playing DE and dropping or rushing is nothing new.

  • Mark

    Chris ,

    Versatility in Scheme and Players is nothing new for Bill Belichick, it is his standard. During his NYGiant years, he utilzed many 2 DL configurations in Nickel and Dime Rush…

    4-Man Rush:
    DT-Erik Howard
    DT-Leonard Marshall
    DE-Carl Banks

    LB-Pepper Johnson
    6 DB’s

    3-Man Rush:
    NT-Erik Howard
    DE-Leonard Marshall

    LB-Carl Banks
    LB-Pepper Johnson
    6 DB’s

    Mike Vrabel = Versatility.

    Great Articles…Thanks….

  • Tom

    Interestingly enough, Urban Meyer is exploring a move to bringing in more of a 3-man front from Florida’s usual 4-3. The reasoning behind this is not only what Florida’s opponents are doing offensively, but that it is a lot easier to find excellent athletes in the 3-4 OLB mold and 300lbs+ gap fillers than it is to find 280lb 4-3 SDE’s that are quick enough to rush the passer consistently in the SEC (in other words 1st rounders).

    Taking a look at Florida’s roster right now this makes a lot of sense, as outside of Carlos Dunlap they are lacking that big, explosive defensive end. Trattou isn’t that guy (not quick enough), and neither is William Green (not big enough). Earl Okine is the only real possibility and he has yet to really come on. In recruiting circles this year only Ronald Powell appears to possibly be an end in that mold.

    However, if you look at the other positions in the front 7, Florida has a wealth of possibilities. They would be able to fill the two ILB’s with Bostic and Beal, and they are already playing around some with Lerentee McCray at Fox DE and William Green at OLB. It seems they would be almost natural OLB’s in a 3-4 look. All of these players are simply outstanding athletes and it would allow Meyer to put his best on the field.

    Meyer himself has stated that the idea would be to have those hybrid OLB/DE’s playing the equivalent of a “Percy position” on defense. They already used a 3-down front a lot during nickel situations with their “Joker” package, letting Brandon Spikes rush the passer as almost a standup end and using Will Hill effectively as a 3rd safety playing in the box. I don’t know that if they’d ever go to a true 2-gap scheme but it is intriguing, nonetheless.

  • Wide Tackle Six

    Probably is trying to keep his options open based on his personnel. Some of the linebackers are gone or getting older, (Vrable, Bruski) and the free agent Colvin from a few years ago got hurt and was let go.

    If a good DE like Burgess was more available than a linebacker then you need to make that adjustment.

    Also I wonder if something like the Wildcat creates these type of changes.

  • mlc808

    Never underestimate the potential advantage in doing something new. When the NFL was a predominantly 3-4 league there were a lot of small fast linebackers available in the later rounds of the draft (i.e. cheap) – so not only do you get a tactical edge you get at strategic edge as well.

    Now, in the 4-3 era, there may be an advantage to bringing a different look upfront as well as a greater number of DE/OLB ‘tweeners’ available to staff your defense.

    The ebb and flow of offensive and defensive trends can be a benefit to the coach who understands the strengths and weaknesses of any given system — and how they are realted to one another.

  • Box_O_Rocks

    Nice piece Chris.

    For clarification amongst comment participants: Vrabel was traded to Kansas City this past winter in the Cassel trade. Bruschi is still Linebacker Emeritus, but he’s no longer department chair.

    Bill Belichick is a multiple front man, if a 40 front will give him the best match-up against a particular offense, he’s a 40 man. If one Defensive Lineman (DL) and six Linebackers (LB) is the best match-up, he’s a 10 front man (this has been used in games on multiple occasions, including the playoffs). Current speculation claims he’s going more 40 this season based on drafting three DL and working out Free Agent veterans, however; as the title of this article notes, this is premature speculation. For example:

    — Against Cincinnati in preseason game two New England started in a classic two-gap 3-4 featuring their ‘big three’ DL (first round draft choices Seymour, Wilfork, and Warren).
    — For passing situations they morphed into a 40-front using two of their big three and two Outside LB (OLB)/small Defensive End (DE) hybrids (the newly acquired Derrick Burgess 6’2″ 260 and Tully Banta-Cain 6’3″ 250), they then platooned the two Defensive Tackle sized guys with the previously resting third member of the big three and long time third down specialist Jarvis Green to keep the big men fresh.
    — They also switched over into 40 fronts on run downs as the spirit moved them, bringing in one of their rookies to create a straight up 40-heavy look with four 300+ pounders, using a couple different 4-3 under packages (the OLB/DE look described in the article or a 4-3 under with a 300+ pound 5-technique showing his big man can dance moves), or a 4-3 over look.
    — They ran a 40-heavy front with the second team, but they also mixed in some 30 variations.
    — While the Defensive Lineman were playing chess, the Linebackers and Defensive Backs were doing the same thing with varying packages behind them.
    — They experimented with various 40 fronts against Philadelphia in game one, but they also worked Burgess as a 4-3 OLB playing on his feet.

    In short, it looks like your classic Bill Belichick preseason – train, crosstrain, experiment, develop, implement, and give Offensive Coordinators ulcers.

  • Jon E.

    Belichick puts a 4-3 front on against most spread formations- against Indy in 2007 he put Vrabel on the tite/strong side and walked the other OLB/Nickel onto the split 3rd reciever.

    The gap designations are the most interesting thing about Bill’s defense. He and Saban both commit at least one player to playing on the bubble, or 2-gapping. This makes their fronts strong against the run in every gap but those 2.

    I like Box_o_Rocks comment: Bill and Nick look at defense as an offensive pursuit- they use a variety of personnel groupings and many set plays.

  • backlink hizmeti

    good job man.. all right numberone.

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