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Ask PFW: Why are Patriots converting to 3-4 D?

Fans' questions answered in this week's PFW mailbag.

Blake Bortles, QB -- The Patriots coaches have described the second-year Jacksonville starter as a combination of Ben Roethlisberger and Tyrod Taylor. He’s still a work in progress but Bortles is dangerous with his arms and his legs.
Blake Bortles, QB -- The Patriots coaches have described the second-year Jacksonville starter as a combination of Ben Roethlisberger and Tyrod Taylor. He’s still a work in progress but Bortles is dangerous with his arms and his legs.

Why are the patriots converting back to a 3-4 defense? We don't have enough quality linebackers to have a good 3-4. And it doesn't play to the strengths of the D lineman that we do have! Chandler Jones is much better as an end in a 4-3, and so is [Will] Smith. Last year we had a 4-3 and the D was great before all the injuries. Why fix what ain't broke? J.P. Galasso

New England has been playing a lot of 3-4 in the second half of the preseason, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're converting fully back to Bill Belichick's favorite formation on defense. I agree with you, J.P., that the personnel isn't ideal for a 3-4, but no other team likes to game plan week to week more than this one. It could simply be that Belichick was using this preseason to give his defenders experience in that look – with Jones dropping into coverage, for instance – so that if they decide to use that against a particular opponent or opponents this season, the players will be somewhat comfortable with it.

You could also be right to infer from what we've all seen that the Patriots are indeed going back to the base 3-4. But until I see them line up in that consistently to start this season, I'll reserve judgment and stick to my hypothesis that it's just a case making the players more versatile. Erik Scalavino


Over the offseason there has been a lot of talk about who the Patriots will have rotating with Jones and Ninkovich. Do you think that with the likely switch to a 3-4 defense that the rotational player(s) is now [Dont'a] Hightower and or [rookie Dominique] Easley. Also do you think Easley can play DE in the 3-4 or would he be best suited as an OLB?* *Kerry Brown

When the Patriots use the 3-4 – as I said earlier, I'm not yet convinced it's a full-time conversion – someone is going to be left out, and at times this summer, it was Jones. I don't like seeing him coming off the bench, however, and the Patriots can't afford to employ him that way. He's the team's best pass rusher. The odd man out, I would agree, has to be Hightower. Jones and Rob Ninkovich would be your outside 'backers, with Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins on the inside. Up front, Vince Wilfork is the nose, but with the release of Tommy Kelly, I'm not sure who will line up at either end. Joe Vellano is a candidate, as are Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga, once they return from injury, as well as the rookie Easly. I don't think he's suited to play outside linebacker, regardless of the front. Erik Scalavino

HUH??? Can you guys make heads or tails out of this press release detailing the new rules regarding the practice squad? How many lawyers does the NFL employ to write this stuff? Ok, so it's now 10 players, that's easy enough, but, the eligibility stuff. Yikes. My head was spinning! Gary Abrams

Sure, it's actually not as complicated as the language makes it appear. Yes, it has expanded from eight to 10 players, but only for the next two seasons (this year and next), unless an agreement is reached to extend it beyond 2015. Rookies, as always, are automatically qualified to be on the practice squad.

First-year players are eligible. These are guys who've been in the league before, who aren't rookies, but who don't yet have an accrued season – six or more games on an active roster – under their belts. Second-year players would be eligible if their first accrued season was more than six but fewer than nine games on an active roster.

For the next two years, two of the 10 practice squad players can be players in their third year of NFL service. So, for instance, if you had a guy who started all 16 games for your club in his first two seasons, he could still be signed to the practice squad in this, his third year. Previously, this was not allowed for any practice squad players.

Finally, any player who's been on a practice squad for three seasons is no longer eligible for practice squad relegation. In the past, three games on the practice squad would be considered a full season thereon; under the new language, the minimum has been raised to six games. Erik Scalavino


Tom Brady got called for a cadence/false start in the last preseason... What is that all about this year? I thought that was one of the things a QB was supposed to do, keeping the opposing defense off balance with the cadence? What is the actual rule this year? Or is it an old rule that was never enforced?* *Wayne Y.

It wasn't Brady's voice inflection that garnered the penalty, it was his body movement. This year, pre-snap movement is a point of emphasis, meaning referees are paying closer attention to it and tossing flags more often to enforce an already existing rule. There are reasonable exceptions made to the movement clause, but the intended purpose is to penalize offensive players who are intentionally trying to draw the defense offside by moving parts of their body in too exaggerated a manner.

Examples of this that are cited in the official rules change pamphlet distributed by the NFL include: "a center abruptly lifting or dropping his head not immediately followed by the snap; a lineman abruptly pointing; a lineman flicking his fingers or hands; a lineman abruptly tapping a teammate as part of a silent count; a quarterback in shotgun formation thrusting his hands forward in an exaggerated manner when there is not a simultaneous snap; a head bob by a quarterback. Violations will be called regardless of whether they draw a reaction from the defense."

That's what Brady was flagged for against the Panthers, not the change in sound of his voice. Erik Scalavino

What's the report on [Eathyn] Manumaleuna and [L.T.] Tuipulotu? Considering the injuries at DT, can these guys contribute? Kyle L.

Of the two rookies, I've seen much more of Tuipulotu, who's gotten considerable opportunities this summer. If either has a chance for the 53 or the practice squad, my money would be on him. Erik Scalavino

What about Braxston Cave at center or guard? He plays two positions and also played defense in high school. Do you think he will make the cut? I would think that he would. He has pretty much been injury free for most of his career. Victor Budd

Being injury-free doesn't equate with being good enough to make a roster. In Cave's case, being healthy would be coincidental to his making the team, which is a long shot. His best opportunity might be to return to the practice squad, where he spent all of last season. I think he has some potential and could develop into a nice player if he stays in this system long enough.* Erik Scalavino*

I have an out of the box question about red jerseys and old fashioned helmets (sorry I do not remember the exact word for this particular and rare equipment) with the playing guy on it. As we haven't see it for a while do we have a chance to see it this year in a game? Ludovic Boisseau

You're referring to the Pat Patriot throwback logo and uniforms, which happen to be my favorite sports uniform of all time. I loved the fact that the Patriots wore those at least once a year for several years, in place of the current Flying Elvis blues. Sadly, the NFL's player safety committee members decided that it was too dangerous for players to wear different helmets during a season. They claimed it contributed to head injuries more so than if a player just wore the same helmet all year. Not sure I buy their argument, but because of it, teams like the Patriots were forced to forgo having throwback games. So, no, you won't be seeing the best logo ever created anytime soon, unless you come to Foxborough and buy one at the Pro Shop. Erik Scalavino


Hi Andy, Erik, Paul and Co. Great job as always. My question is, while keeping in mind that I work 11-7pm Sunday, why can't the NFL schedule be more like the pre-season? Spread across Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There are a lot of people that cannot see most games because they work Sunday. Baseball is every day.* *David Mittica

The NFL already spreads itself way too thin, in my estimation, with its year-long slate of Thursday games, which are generally not good quality football games. It's too short a turnaround from Sunday to play again at full speed on a Thursday night. Unlike baseball (which plays WAY too many games, but that's another rant for another day), football is actually a physically demanding sport. Bodies need time to recover, and the inconsistency of a schedule that spreads games across a wide patch of days, like you're suggesting, would only contribute to a decreasing quality of play. The game would suffer.

The only baseball players who could truly relate would be pitchers. Why do you think starting rotations usually include five players? Because their arms get so warn out after a game, they need a lot of time to recuperate. Multiply that by a factor of at least 10, and spread it across the entire body, and you understand what a football player is dealing with.

The other reason the games aren't spread out all week is because they are broadcast on network television, which allocated its weeknights to comedies, dramas, and idiotic reality TV programs. They've designated Sunday as the day for pro football, and that's where it's staying (with Monday and Thursday the exceptions). Plus, college football is mostly a Saturday sport, and the league doesn't want to compete with its de facto minor league for TV viewership.

I sympathize with your situation, though, David. My suggestion would be to record the games you're interested in watching (assuming you have DVR capabilities) until your work schedule changes. Erik Scalavino

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