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Cosell: When it comes to identifying Patriots’ defensive front, mind the gap

03.26.12 at 11:09 am ET
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During the 2011 season, much was made about the Patriots’ apparent decision to move from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. With the acquisition of veteran defensive linemen like Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Albert Haynesworth — all defenders who appeared to be a better fit in a 4-3 — it certainly appeared Bill Belichick was making a seismic shift in defensive sensibility.

But it turns out that the idea of 4-3 vs. 3-4 scheme in New England wasn’t as simple as having someone on the edge put their hand on the ground instead of stand up. Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who serves as the executive producer of ESPN’s “NFL Matchup,” said that when it comes to the Patriots, the differences between a three-man front and a four-man front are more complex than you’d think.

“You have to understand one thing — fronts are not determined by who’s in a three-point stance and who is in a two-point stance. Fronts are determined by gap concepts,” Cosell said. “And I guarantee if you look at a lot of the Patriots’ ‘three-man fronts’ in the past where there’s actually two linebackers standing up on the outside, you’ll see that they’re actually in four-man front principles.”

Some of the versatility of defenders like Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich allow the Patriots to present one front when they’re actually in a different look altogether.

“With the Patriots, it’s complicated. You’ll see a three-technique. You’ll see a nose shade, not a nose tackle. Sure, there were snaps where they played a true 3-4 with a true nose tackle or a zero technique and two ends who are five techniques. But just because you have three down linemen, it doesn’t mean you are playing a 3-4.”

With the Patriots cutting Haynesworth and losing Anderson in free agency to Buffalo and the future of Carter uncertain because of injury, Cosell believes the Patriots won’t necessarily brand themselves a 3-4 or 4-3 team going forward, no matter who they might draft (or otherwise acquire), saying there’s “no need for them to make a delineation between 3-4 and 4-3. You don’t need to do that.”

Instead, look for them to continue to add versatile linemen and keep people guessing.

“In Houston, Wade Phillips’ defense is not a 3-4. It’s a 4-3. It just has the weak side defensive end — which was DeMarcus Ware in Dallas and was Mario Williams in Houston — stand up in a two-point stance. But every gap tells you it’s a 4-3,” Cosell said. “People immediately assume because you see three down linemen and you see two outside linebackers standing up, that’s a 3-4. No. Belichick is smarter than that.”

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Bill Belichick, DeMarcus Ware Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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