This offseason, when Bill Belichick announced that he'd be more involved with the New England defense in 2010, eyebrows were raised. The head coach, you'll recall, made a name for himself for his defensive acumen.
Now, Belichick's always had a preference for the 3-4. During the 2009 season, though, we saw the Patriots defense line up with four down lineman more frequently than in years past. And in recent weeks, we've seen numerous reports that the team has been hosting pre-draft visits for several defensive line prospects.
Naturally, that's gotten Team PFW thinking (we're dangerous when we do that) about this week's *Patriots Football Weekly *Debate Friday question.
Should the Patriots convert to a 4-3 base defense?
Read the arguments from the PFW writers, then cast your vote in this week's poll.
Andy Hart says, "Yes …"
The times, they are a changing. The days of football being only about power, strength and stopping the run are long gone. Today's offenses are all about the passing game, undersized running backs and big plays. As Michael Lombardi said at the Combine, the NFL is now more like basketball played on grass. As such, defenses need to change.
For decades Bill Belichick has employed an oversized, two-gap, read-and-react front. Nose tackles had to be 320-plus to eat up blocks. Outside linebacker have to be 6-4, 250-plus pounds to set the edge, but also fast and athletic enough to succeed in the passing game.
I just don't think that style is the best course of action in the NFL these days. Today, if you take time to read what an offense is doing sometimes you are too late to react. The Patriots defense seemed to be in that situation a bit over the last few years. Lately the best defenses have either been 4-3 speed-based fronts or more aggressive, attacking 3-4 fronts. I think it's time for the Patriots to go that route as well.
A big part of it is also personnel. The fact is that there are more guys on the planet with the combination of size and speed to fit a smaller but more aggressive defense than there are those suited to Belichick's old-school 3-4 front. I'm not saying that scheme will never work again – the NFL is cyclical and someday power running offense and stout defense will come back around.
But right now to compete in the NFL you have to be more speedy and athletic than opposing offenses. On some level, that requires a schematic, philosophical change in New England. Belichick has always said that he is philosophically for anything that will help his team win. Maybe the greatest example of that would be scrapping the base defense he's used successfully for three decades and, seemingly, getting with the times. Because, they are a changing.
Paul Perillo says, "No …"
Whether the Patriots employ three- or four-man fronts makes no difference to me. Either way, the principles of the defense remain the same and that means two-gapping up front and maintaining a disciplined, control-oriented mindset. That scheme has served Bill Belichick well over the years and I see no need to drastically change that approach at this point.
I do understand that personnel can dictate formations and the Patriots are probably better off using 4-3 looks given the current state of the roster. That was the case last year for the most part as well. I just don't see sudden changes where linebackers and defensive linemen are shooting through gaps and charging up-field all the time, again, given the state of the personnel available.
The run defense has actually been pretty solid recently and a main reason for that has been the steady play of Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren up front. They've been able to control their gaps while the linebackers have done the same, thus limiting the amount of big plays the opponent has been able to muster on the ground. The playoff loss to Baltimore was an obvious exception, but for the most part the run defense has been stout.
Changing philosophies would be asking players to change their approach. That's not an easy thing to do. Maybe it would work and Wilfork, Warren and the rest of the front seven wouldn't have a problem changing their responsibilities. But the larger point in my mind is finding players who get the job done regardless of system.
Belichick's scheme looked pretty good through the early part of this decade when the likes of Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, Roman Phifer and Ted Johnson were here. Now those guys are gone and the reason the defense hasn't been quite as successful is the scheme?
Sorry, I'm not buying it. Belichick often says the idea on defense is to find the guy with the ball and get him on the ground. It's not easier or harder to do that while shooting through gaps and blitzing off the edge. The 3-4, two-gap system has been around for a long time and won a lot of games – and winning never goes out of style.
You've read the debate, now give us your take. Cast your vote in this week's Debate Friday poll.