Front seven next year: 3-4 or 4-3?
posted at 2/9/2012 7:54 AM EST
I know BB likes defenses that morph into all sorts of different formations, so in some ways the 3-4 vs 4-3 question grossly oversimplifies things. But at the same time, as we think about what players the team should bring in, it does make a difference how they are going to be lining up most of the time and what schemes BB is planning to play most.
In your front seven you need a combination of skills: guys who are stout against the run, guys who can rush the passer or penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield, guys who can attract double teams and occupy blockers, guys who can drop into pass coverage. Until last season, BB seemed to be drafting for a 3-4 look. That meant he was looking for his linemen to be the stout run defenders who could occupy blockers. He looked for size more than speed in defensive linemen. Similarly, he was looking for bigger OLBs who could match up with offensive tackles, but also had the speed and agility to drop into pass coverage. He also wanted depth at ILB, since there are two positions to fill in the 3-4 there rather than one MLB position in the 4-3.
Early last year, as we all know, he switched philosophy--bringing in Carter to play as a pass-rushing end, Haynesworth to be more of a penetrator inside, and Ellis to provide some versatility because of his ability to play either 4-3 or 3-4. Wilfork was also playing a different role--not as much two-gap NT, a lot more one-gap techniques and often lined up away from the center of the line. This meant a switch in LB positions. When everyone was healthly, Mayo was moved outside, Spikes played MLB, and Nink was the other OLB.
Looking at the team now, it seems like the core talent still is better for a 3-4 than a 4-3. Mayo in my opinion is better in the middle (he seemed weak in pass coverage on the outside, I thought) and Spikes really can't play anything but inside. So our two best LBs are really both inside guys. Our linemen are all mostly big, 3-4 guys, not really 4-3 types (Anderson and, if he's back, Carter excepted). The problem, though, is we still lack good OLBs for a 3-4. If we revert to 3-4, we need to pick up at least one (preferably two) good outside guys who can generate pass rush, hold the edge, and drop into coverage. That seems like a big challenge. Maybe an easier route is to continue the evolution toward more 4-3, and pick up another 4-3 DE with pass rushing skills. But that raises the question of how to handle Spikes and Mayo. Do we keep working Mayo outside? Do we platoon the two? Or do we end up trading either Spikes or Mayo to get help at OLB or DE?
I have no idea what the right answer is--and if I know BB he probably has two or three options in mind to allow him to adjust to whatever talent ends up being available--but it's interesting to speculate where the team might go. It seems hard to guess what players the Pats will want to draft or acquire in free agency until we have an idea what scheme BB envisions for his front seven.
Curious what others think . . .
And PS: What ever happened to Cunningham? Is he a 4-3 DE, a 3-4 OLB, or just a bust?