From the article:
Sensing ChangeThe moment the Patriots released Ty Warren – perhaps the prototype 3-4 DE – I speculated over twitter that the Patriots might be shifting towards being a 4-3 team this season. The more players they have brought in, the more that seems to be a reality. Albert Haynesworth might be the most destructive 4-3 DT in the NFL, and we all know that Albert wants nothing to do with the 3-4. He only talked to 4-3 teams when he was a free agent leaving Tennessee, and the move to the 3-4 in DC is what sparked all of the drama since.
The Patriots got him for a steal, and the Haynesworth move alone wouldn’t necessarily have meant much, because Belichick is well capable of carving a 1-gap role for him regardless of the overall scheme, even if it meant a limited number of snaps, but what about Mark Anderson and Andre Carter? Carter was one of the best pure pass-rushing 4-3 DEs in football in 2009, but in 2010 he was badly miscast in the Redskins’ new 3-4. He simply wasn’t capable of generating the same burst off the ball when stood up in a two-point stance, he needed the coil to explode from that the three point stance provides. Mark Anderson is another 4-3 DE, albeit one a lot less dominant than Carter has been (with just a sack-gaudy rookie season to hold up for his career to date).
New England has had a serious lack of pass-rush for a few seasons now, and they had to find pressure from somewhere, but the players they brought in are interestingly scheme specific (there have been reports that Carter was assured he would be used only as an edge rusher with his hand in the ground before signing). There are going to have to be a lot of four-man fronts in New England this season for these guys to be in their best position to succeed.
But this is the New England Patriots, so you know they haven’t forced themselves into a corner, they’ve both retained and acquired players that are scheme diverse, and those guys allow them to change it up between three- and four-man lines. Mike Wright can play in both schemes, but is at his best as a pass-rushing interior force. Vince Wilfork is known as the prototype 3-4 NT, but he was moved around the D-line last season to find beneficial matchups and is well capable of manning the nose in a 4-3 front as well.
The signing of Shaun Ellis was another big piece of that puzzle. Ellis had been a key cog to the Jets’ hybrid, capable of playing as both a 4-3 DE and DT, as well as a 3-4 DE. That kind of versatility allowed the Jets to seamlessly switch between the formations without changing personnel. The Patriots will likely adjust their personnel when they change between schemes, and won’t cycle through fronts constantly like the Jets do, but players like Ellis allow them to keep the potential to field either defensive front week to week.