New England Patriots fans have been dying for the team to upgrade at the pass-rushing outside linebacker position for years now.
If New England is going to get back to the top of the NFL, they’re going to need to pair a top-tier defense with Tom Brady and the offense, and in the modern NFL there is no better way to keep the other team out of the end zone than to create consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback.
That logic is sound—it is a dominant pass rush that the Pats are missing. What we have all wrong is the position needed to generate the pressure.
Instead of focusing on the player actually bringing the quarterback to the ground, we need to think about the players around him that are allowing him to get there in the first place.
And this is where the beauty of the Patriots defensive system comes into play.
The 3-4 is innovative and dynamic because it allows defensive masterminds like Bill Belichick to move chess pieces around the field and create situations in which the offense doesn’t have enough bodies to block the defenders coming at them.
The best way that a coach can achieve these mismatches is by having a player at the defensive end position who requires two blockers to keep him at bay.
The best at this that I’ve seen was Richard Seymour say around ’03 and ’04, and it just so happens that those were the years when the Pats defense was keeping scores low and the team was winning Super Bowls.
Seymour constantly demanded a double team, and when both an outside backer and an inside backer were lined up in the gaps on either side of him, the offense had no choice but to block the outside backer with a running back or tight end.
These players were typically ill suited to protect the quarterback from even average pass rushers, and their involvement in pass protection led to someone like Mike Vrabel being able to get 15 combined sacks in 2003 and 2004.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Vrabel as much as the next hardcore Pats fan, but he certainly benefited from having favorable blocking matchups to fight through thanks to Seymour playing in front of him.
If that doesn’t convince you, how about this: Rodney Harrison—a defensive back—had six sacks during that same period. How many times do you remember him flying off the end of the offensive formation untouched and bringing down the quarterback?
These opportunities were created because the defensive ends in the system were clearing the way for him.
Think of it like the Patriots running game. Instead of focusing on paying big money for ball carriers, the team has made a commitment to putting quality offensive linemen on the field. With players like Logan Mankins leading the way, undrafted free agents Danny Woodhead and Benjarvis Green-Ellis have thrived.
Defensive ends in a 3-4 pass rush play the same role for the guys lined up behind them.
And this is where having Ty Warren back this season will make such a huge difference.
By all accounts, this offseason Warren is looking strong and ready to return to the level of play that he’s brought to the field in the past when healthy.
Warren can be the one who offenses need to double, and this will allow the players we already have at outside linebacker to shine.
I could see players like Tully Banta Cain being the next Mike Vrabel or Patrick Chung turning into the second coming of Rodney Harrison—the important part is that they have a defensive end who will take care of the blockers for them as they are on their way to bring down the other team’s quarterback.