New England Patriots Sign Shaun Ellis: What It Means for the Defense

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New England Patriots Sign Shaun Ellis: What It Means for the Defense
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Well, just as I was about to write a story about the one area the New England Patriots had yet to address in the 2011 free agency frenzy, they went out and addressed it.

According to ESPN's football guru Adam Schefter, the Patriots agreed to a one-year deal with former New York Jets defensive lineman Shaun Ellis pending a physical.

Over the past few years, the Patriots have searched for fits in their two-gap 3-4 scheme. Early indications from this offseason and training camp are that the search is over.

The Patriots have been running a four-man front throughout most of training camp. This is somewhat surprising, as they have run a three-man front as their base defense for most of Belichick's tenure with the Patriots. They did, however, run a 4-3 during the Patriots' first Super Bowl season.

It appears the Patriots have embraced the idea of featuring disruptors on the defensive front. They severely lacked those last year. The Patriots defense gives offenses multiple looks a lot as it is. That said, this season could feature a multiple-front strategy in which the Patriots employ both a 3-4 and 4-3 front.

Of course, the pass rush is the main point of focus, as it has been all offseason, but a four-man front featuring Ellis, Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork would make for a long day for anyone trying to run against it.

Ellis is more stout in run defense than Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore, who have been the two primary defensive ends in the 4-3 front throughout training camp this year.

As for the pass rush, they were already in the sub-package 57 percent of the time in 2010, featuring four-man fronts as they tried to get after the quarterback.

Mark Anderson, whom the Patriots acquired a few days ago via free agency, is considered more of a speed guy off the edge than Ellis, but Ellis could contribute as a great interior pass-rushing presence in those fronts, and even on the outside with his experience as an end in the 4-3.

No matter where he lines up, the Patriots are hopeful that Ellis can provide a boost to the struggling third-down defense of last year, which allowed a league-worst conversion rate of 47.12 percent. The primary point of focus in terms of that third-down defense has been the pass rush off the edge, where the Patriots outside linebackers only totaled 12.5 sacks as a group of four last year.

Is he going to bring double-digit sacks to the Patriots front? Probably not, but what he does bring is assistance in the concept of team defense that the Patriots stick to so fervently.

As a team, the Patriots reached the quarterback just 36 times last year. While that was an improvement over 2009, there's still work to be done.

The presence of an interior pass rush could help the outside guys get to the quarterback. That's where Ellis comes into play.

Whether the Patriots run a 3-4, a 4-3 or a combination of the two in 2011, the outlook for the defense is much better than it was in 2010.

Erik Frenz is the co-host of the PatsPropaganda and Frenz podcast. Follow Erik on Twitter @erikfrenz.

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