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Patriots HC Bill Belichick on the differences between playing on the defensive edge and playing on the inside

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When asked the right questions, Belichick will give great answers; for example on the intricacies of defensive line play.

You never know what will happen when you enter a press conference held by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. It all depends on his mood and the quality of questions he is asked. On the rare occasion that Belichick is both in a talkative mood and gets asked a good football-specific question, he can be highly entertaining and even educational.

Take Thursday’s press conference for example. Belichick was asked about offseason acquisition Chris Long and noted that the veteran defensive end, despite not regularly rushing from the inside over the course of his eight-year career, was used in this capacity during New England’s training camp.

The follow-up question was about the transition Long is going through – not only playing on the outside but the inside as well – and what a player has to do to find success in that scenario. Belichick offered a fantastic response and explained the differences between rushing from the edge and rushing from the inside in great detail.

It’s a different type of matchup. Generally, when an end works against a tackle it’s pretty much just those two guys. Sometimes a back or a tight end might chip him but for the most part it’s pretty much truly a one-on-one situation from a wider alignment with rush-lane responsibilities on the edge.

This is straight forward. Edge defenders generally attack the outside blockers – whether it is just offensive tackles or skill position protectors as well – and have a relatively finite set of responsibilities against the pass and the rush.

Inside there’s a third guy involved somewhere between the center and the guards against usually two rushers, unless you blitz but let’s just say you don’t, if you rush four then it’s some version of three-on-two in there, so you’re dealing with another guy that you’re just not dealing with outside.

The first major difference between attacking the outside and attacking the inside is simply the number of rushers compared to the blockers: a standard four-man rush generally leaves one interior offensive lineman able to double down on one of the defenders.

In theory, that leaves three one-on-ones across the line; similarly to the edge. However, this scenario does not take into account blockers pulling or sliding off initial assignments to help out others – two things that are more common on the inside than on the edge.

The guards generally have a little less length and a little less athleticism than the tackles but you also have a little less space in there. Seeing the way the protection slides, which way the center goes, whether you’re rushing on the guard or rushing on the center; as a defensive end you’re really not that worried about which way the slide is going because that doesn’t affect you too much.

Recognizing motions and being able to react accordingly to exploit potential protection and blocking weaknesses is an integral part of playing on the defensive inside. As Belichick noted, outside defenders are not affected that much by those details as they – mentioned earlier – generally have more one-on-one assignments.

It might affect you from the inside to make an inside move on the tackle. The guard might be there, but again, I’d say overall that’s less of an issue than when you’re playing inside, so there are some scheme things, there’s a little matchup difference. It’s different for the guards to see those guys inside like that, too, that usually have more length, more speed, more quickness, less power generally.

Belichick points out a key aspect of using defensive ends on the inside: matchup advantages. With edge defenders, as he says, having different athletic abilities than defensive tackles, a team can diversify its attack to find the matchups best suited to potentially exploit.

In short, there are small but important differences between the two positions. Not only the physical makeup of the attack is different – rushing against two blockers on a more regular basis – but also the mental aspect of the attack; recognizing slides and protections.

In just 252 words, Belichick is able to shine a light on this complex topic and give an overview of the details of defensive line play. Who says his press conferences are dull?