The New England Patriots have certainly made some big personnel moves over the past week, both in terms of potential impact and weight. Just during the past week, the Patriots added four veteran defensive linemen: Mark Anderson, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter, and Gerard Warren. Add in Albert Haynesworth, and you have a heaping helping of talent. It’s clear that Bill Belichick has decided to add beef to his defense. Going by NFL.com’s Player Profile numbers (which I would guess are lower than they should be), the Pats added 1,132 pounds of defensive beef this past week and add in Albert Haynesworth, that pushes the fresh beef totals to 1,467 pounds. That’s not counting the rest of the defensive linemen. (Side Note: There’s no way Haynesworth is only 335, but I’ll go with it NFL.com)
So, what’s the deal with all of these defensive linemen?
By my count and with a little help from ESPN Boston (check out the defensive linemen list Mike Reiss put together), the Patriots have 21 defensive linemen on their roster. Now if you’re to believe Bill Belichick, the Patriots aren’t really doing anything different. The philosophy is the same, but the alignments might be different. OK, fine, it’s still a Belichick defense, but they’re clearly aligning now more with four defensive linemen. Thus, the shift to a base 4-3 is clearly in motion. 21 defensive linemen? No way the base will be a 3-4.
I’m not saying we’ll never see that 3-4. I’m sure Belichick has specific packages where he will use the 3-4 or perhaps certain teams he feels it will be more effective against, but the team clearly now is a base 4-3 team. It’s really a smart move for the team, as it is clearly easier to find 4-3 edge players, or defensive ends, than it is 3-4 outside linebackers, or taking the time to convert a 4-3 end to a 3-4 OLB. With more teams now running a 3-4 base defense, there’s more competition for those players, and Belichick is ducking the competition by going 4-3.
The Hooded One likely came to this realization last season as he watched his defense fail to get pressure using the 3-4. He was trying to convert 4-3 defensive ends like then-rookie Jermaine Cunningham to OLB, which probably reduced his effectiveness after playing DE throughout his college career. Belichick is clearly adjusting his schemes to fit his personnel, but it remains to be seen if it translates to better results. We should start getting an indication in a few days when the Patriots play Jacksonville in their preseason opener Thursday night.