Earlier this week, Bill Belichick was a guest on Sirius XM NFL Radio’s “Movin’ the Chains” radio program hosted by Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan, and he finally explained why the Patriots switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense. Apparently, it was not due to a change in philosophy, adjusting to current personnel, or a want to generate more pressure with four down linemen. The change in defense this year is due to the NFL lockout, which resulted in the cancellation of offseason mini-camps and a shortened training camp.
Belichick felt that because the Patriots spent so much time playing a nickel defense last season to combat the now-prevalent multiple wide receiver sets, there simply wasn’t enough time to teach both the nickel defensive fronts and the 3-4 defensive fronts. Because the nickel and 4-3 fronts are basically the same, it would be easier to teach both defenses as “one front.” For all of the analysis that was done on this defensive switch, nobody figured that it would something, well, this simple.
“We’ve played a mixture of odd fronts and even fronts, but I just felt like from a starting point — given the lack of spring opportunities to practice and meet, and the shortened training camp in terms of actual number of practices — that from a teaching standpoint we felt like there would be more carryover teaching our base defense and nickel defense really as one front…There are so many intricacies to a 3-4 defense that I just didn’t know if we’d be ready to handle them this year. Probably wouldn’t have been, to be honest with you.”
So that’s the explanation from The Hooded One himself. Does that mean that the 3-4 defense will return to New England in a normal league year? The answer is “yes,” and apparently that particular defense will be taught THIS year as the season progresses. Here is what Belichick had to say:
“We wanted a lot of carryover between our run responsibilities and run fits, and some of our pressure defenses and things like that. We’ll transition and build into some of our odds fronts…”
If you are not a fan of the 4-3 defense the Pats are using this year, fear not because it sounds like you will see at least some 3-4, likely when the opponent is right to use that defense against. If you prefer the 4-3, you will see it at least for this season. If the defense continues to improve and apply more pressure, perhaps the 4-3 sticks. Whoever said the lockout wouldn’t dramatically affect teams? It caused this one, at least, to completely change its defensive schemes.