The Defensive Line:
Prior to Training Camp, I had us keeping Vince Wilfork and Ron Brace as our 2 Nose Tackles. I had Ty Warren, Richard Seymour, LeKevin Smith, and one other as our defensive ends, with Darryl Richard most likely on the practice squad.
The update after the jump.
My earlier prediction, was based on the Patriots staying in a predominantly 3-4 formation. While the Pats have switched into a 4-3 in times past (look at last years Chargers game), the 3-4 has been the dominant formation. In some of the camp chat, they've even mentioned using a 5-2 (Armchair coaches, keep your eyes open). The Pats have even used a 0-4-7 defense in the past. The Pats look like they will switch in and out if the 4-3 quite a bit this year (it may even be the standard formation). As long as I'm mentioning it, I should talk a little about what it means, the advantages and the disadvantages.
The 3-4 defense describes 3 down linemen (DE-NT-DE), and 4 linebackers (OLB-ILB-ILB-OLB). The potential exists for any of these 7 to rush the quarterback. The nose tackle (NT) generally lines up across from the center. A good nose tackle must occupy multiple blockers (Vince is a great one). The defensive ends (DE) function more like the defensive tackles (DT) in a 4-3 defense, occupying multiple blockers on the line (that's why DE's in a 3-4 get many fewer sacks than the DE's in a 4-3). The outside linebackers (OLB) are the primary pass rushers. If the 3 man line does it's job, the OLB's should have single blockers they need to beat to get to the quarterback. The advantage in the 3-4 is that you are only tying up 3 defenders (for sure) on the line, while pressure could actually come from any of the 4 linebackers. The disadvantage, is that it requires excellent line play.
The 4-3 defense, on the other hand, describes 4 down linemen (DE-DT-DT-DE), and 4 linebackers (Sam, Mike, Will). The potential exists for any of these 7 to also rush the quarterback, but now it is harder to hide where the pressure is coming (fewer linebackers). The defensive tackles generally line up either side of the center. These guys eat up blockers and put pressure on the O-Line. The defensive ends function more like the OLB's in a 3-4 defense, and are the primary pass rushers. The linebacker on the Tight End (strong) side of the line is the Sam. He's usually a bit bigger back, who is able to set the edge on a strong side run. The linebacker on the other (weak) side is the Will. He is usually faster, can pass rush, or drop back into coverage against a receiving back, or slot guy. The last linebacker is the Middle linebacker or Mike. He plugs up running lanes in the middle, drops into coverage as needed, or can blitz through the line. The advantage in the 4-3 is that you have more guaranteed help (4 linemen) putting pressure on the QB. The disadvantage is that there are only 3 linebackers the QB has to focus on.
Our cupboard is a little bare in the OLB category, but our defensive line runneth over. From a personnel standpoint, we're better able to field a 4-3 defense. That's not necessarily bad. Our line can hold its own against 5 blockers in a 3-4 defense. With an extra slab of beef, we should get some penetration even without linebacker play. With Vince Wilfork and Ron Brace elbow to elbow, we have 1/3 ton of prime beef ensuring no one runs up the middle.
As I mentioned earlier, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour are in the last years of their contracts. Both want to stay Patriots, and so far both are taking the high road (although Vince stayed away during OTAs). It looks like the Mr. Kraft is waiting to see what might happen with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). We have a franchise tag that we can fall back on for one of these guys, if necessary. It's also possible this gets taken care of between the 4th preseason game and the 1st regular season contest. Let's hope so.
Now back to business. We carried 6 linemen last year, we had Kenny Smith on IR, and Titus Adams on the practice squad. If we are going 4-3, that's probably not enough bodies as we head in the playoffs (we ALWAYS have to plan for playoffs).
Vince Wilfork is a beast; not just strong, but surprisingly quick for a man of his girth. Ron Brace has done well in training camp and is the heir apparent should the worst happen with Vince. Ron and Vince together might make the Vikings' Williams wall look like tissue paper. Mike Wright is the guy that comes in on passing downs and gives Vince a breather. Stephen Williams might be the guy that spells Ron. (Attention Armchair coach, who do we line up in the middle?).
Richard Seymour and Ty Warren are still the starters at DE. In a 4-3 defense, these guys have the talent to generate some sacks. The Le Kevin Smith trade gave us a fifth rounder from the Broncos that now goes to the Raiders(instead of our fourth rounder), for our OLB/DE Derrick Burgess. I could have put Burgess on this list (the Patriots have him listed as a DE), but they gave him the number 49 which indicates they're looking at him as a linebacker.
Myron Pryor has had a strong enough summer to justify him being on the roster, and Jarvis Green has been a steady veteran backup. Titus Adams and Darryl Richard could be on the practice squad.
As we march through our preseason games, there are several things to look at with the D-Line. In running situations, it's run stopping: closing gaps. On outside runs, it's the responsibility of the linebackers to set the edge. So we're looking more for stopping the runs up the middle. Negative yardage is a good thing; forced fumbles are even better; turnovers are the best.
In the passing game, look for pressure. There are two components here. First, our secondary HAS to provide coverage on the receiving targets. Last year, that was non-existent (unfortunately it looks like Terrence Wheatley has learned his coverage skills from the veteran Deltha O'Neal last year, yikes!). Second, the line has to disrupt the pocket. Sacks are great, but so are incompletions and interceptions. Pressuring the QB causes him to make mistakes. If the QB drops back and can hit a receiver in 2 seconds, that's usually bad coverage from the secondary. If the QB gets 5 to 10 seconds to hit the WR, that's bad pressure from the line and rushing backers. Keep it in mind as you watch to see who makes the team.
Who do YOU think lines up on the defense?
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> UPDATE <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
9-4-2009 - The Patriots have cut Stephen Williams.