New England Patriots: The Defense Now Has a Unique Advantage Over Any Other
While his New York Jets counterpart can come out with anything and wow the media in his press conferences, Belichick does the same when he makes moves in the offseason.
Very few people predicted that Chad Ochocinco would actually end up in New England despite the flamboyant open affection towards the franchise. However that was nothing in comparison to the radical changes Belichick has made to his defense ahead of this season.
Albert Haynesworth was undoubtedly the biggest of shocks—and I even questioned the move at the time—but each addition since Haynesworth's arrival has slowly revealed the team's direction. Rather than just having a stud 4-3 lineman—Haynesworth—in the wrong system, Belichick has brought in multiple pieces that can play in a 4-3 system.
While a flurry of teams in the league have been transitioning to a 3-4 defense opposed to a 4-3, the most recent being the Houston Texans, the Patriots are moving in the other direction. It's unlikely that the defense will leave its base 3-4 altogether but the defense now has the versatility that was evident on offense last year.
Not many teams have the personnel to play a 4-3 and 3-4 on any given snap. The most effective team of doing this in recent years would probably be the Baltimore Ravens. The thing about the Ravens is that they didn't radically change the defense in the process. More often than not they just moved Terrell Suggs from outside linebacker to defensive end.
The Patriots will essentially have two different groups of players on the field when they mix and match their schemes.
Haynesworth should provide a disruptive and penetrating threat to match Vince Wilfork's run-stuffing in the center of their 4-3 set. Wilfork and Haynesworth are outstanding talents and while Haynesworth needs to revive his career and image somewhat, Wilfork will need to adjust to playing a new system. The transition should make Wilfork's job easier and Haynesworth should be motivated by finally being back in the best position for him to excel.
That defensive front will be completed by Andre Carter who previously had 11.5 sacks in the role he will play in New England. Carter had those sacks in Washington next to Haynesworth when the Redskins were still playing a 4-3 front, but he suffered the same fate as Haynesworth in the switch to a 3-4.
The team also took a chance on Mark Anderson who had 12 sacks as a rookie but has struggled since then. Either Anderson or Shuan Ellis will complete the defensive line in the Patriots 4-3 scheme.
More than anything Shaun Ellis is now the most valuable asset in that front seven.
Ellis can make an impact in either scheme. He has previously had a lot of success as a 4-3 defensive end rushing the passer while in recent years he has been the most disruptive piece in the vaunted New York Jets' front seven. Ellis is a rare athlete and probably the only player at his age who can play both 3-4 end and 4-3 end.
He may not be as effective as Haloti Ngata but he is possibly more dynamic. Ellis probably has two years left in him at most but for this season his work for the Patriots will be huge in helping them towards a Super Bowl.
Ellis' signing is the biggest reason the team can now flip between two completely different schemes and remain effective. Vince Wilfork and the winner of a host of players competing for the other end spot in the 3-4 system will create a good defensive line to keep bodies off the team's young linebackers.
Jermaine Cunningham in particular looks set in his second season, as 3-4 outside linebackers don't tend to put up big numbers in their first seasons. Cunningham wasn't helped by injuries and an average defensive line in front of him.
With Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes looking to rack up the tackles next year, and Rob Ninkovich repeating his solid showing from last year, there is no reason the Patriots can't run both defensive systems next season.
This may seem pointless but game planning is a huge part of winning in the NFL.
The reason the New Orleans Saints kept hold of Reggie Bush for all those years despite his lack of a statistical impact was because he gave them a vital matchup piece. Bush eventually became too pricey in New Orleans but now defensive coordinators will face the conundrum of trying to predetermine whether Bush is a running back or wide receiver on any given play when they face the Dolphins.
This versatility will in a sense be the Patriots' Reggie Bush on defense. How can any team prepare to play this team when they won't even be able to identify who will be on the field in what lineup for most of the game?
Most teams will have some versatility defensively, every team has a nickel formation or heavy set. Very few teams will have as many different looks as the Patriots will. Only Gregg Williams or Dom Capers could even consider trying something like this and neither coach has the personnel right now with the Saints or Packers.
The Patriots once again are ahead of the curve and have something that no other team in the league does.
This unfair advantage isn't video tapes, this unfair advantage is a unique mixture of talent and intelligence that will have opposing offenses in fits all season long.
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