58 Defensive Line Combinations: A 2013 Patriots Personnel Study

The defensive line of the 2013 Patriots shifted in waves. Its components changed by the week, and in some cases, by the snap. (NFL Game Rewind)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

The 2013 New England Patriots defensive line was one of adaptation.

It was one of many faces and many alignments. And it was one composed of 15 players, forged by attrition.

For the collection of former draft picks and undrafted free agents, waiver claims and veteran free agents, it was about being greater than the sum of their parts. For head coach Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and position coach Patrick Graham, on the other hand, it was about being interchangeable.

From Week 1 through Week 17, the New England’s defensive line was just that. But its identity remained unknown. There was no true first-team. There was no true base defense.

Its contributors and alignments shifted with each opponent, with each snap.

Roughly 76 percent of official plays transpired in four-man fronts, with the defensive ends either standing up at a wide seven-technique or putting a hand on the ground, square with the offensive tackles. Another 22 percent of plays transpired in varying forms of three-man fronts, whether it was in a traditional 3-4 with a trio of defensive linemen between the bookends, a nickel or dime defense, or a spread 3-6 linebacker-heavy unit to stop the run. And lastly, one percent of plays transpired in six-man goal line packages, where an expanded surface area was necessary.

Whichever approach New England took to the down and distance, 58 different personnel combinations the byproduct.

Here is a closer look at each one.

New England’s Four-Man Defensive Line Revisited: All 32 Combinations

Discretion is advised when differentiating between the Patriots’ use of four- and three-man lines, as New England’s 4-3 defensive ends have been known to play their share of 3-4 outside linebacker. But even with one defensive end in the seven-technique and the other outside the tight end in the nine-technique, their responsibilities vary but the theme remains the same.

Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones – 249 Snaps

  • After Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly landed on injured reserve, rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones joined the starting front four. It was a nucleus that began in Week 4 and rose to full-time duty by Week 6. This group surpassed the snap tally of the Wilfork-Kelly combo by Week 7. It remained the most prominent personnel grouping on the line by season’s end.

Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Chandler Jones – 157 Snaps

  • Sealver Siliga made his New England premiere in Week 13 against the Houston Texans. And although his first opportunity came as a 3-4 nose tackle, he went on to play 157 snaps with this four-man line over the final four games of the regular season.

Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones – 80 Snaps

  • This was the primary defensive line to start the season, prior to Wilfork’s torn Achilles against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4.

Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Tommy Kelly, Chandler Jones – 58 Snaps

  • Vellano filtered in for Wilfork early in the year and immediately replaced him after the season-ending injury.

Rob Ninkovich, Andre Carter, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones – 53 Snaps

  • Andre Carter re-joined the team and was active to face the Miami Dolphins. From that time forward, he eclipsed rookie Michael Buchanan as the third edge-rusher and also worked simultaneously with Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, who would sugar the A-gaps in some instances.

Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones – 38 Snaps

  • Vellano provided Tommy Kelly with a breather as the team’s third defensive tackle in September.

Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Michael Buchanan – 27 Snaps

  • This “speed” line was used early in the year to get Buchanan on the field and next to Chandler Jones during passing downs.

Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly, Chandler Jones, Michael Buchanan – 26 Snaps

  • With the same motives as the aforementioned “speed line,” this unit dispersed to create quick interior pressure via Chandler Jones, but it also bent the arc outside via Buchanan.

Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones, Michael Buchanan – 26 Snaps

  • The Joneses added interior pass rush, and Buchanan’s presence at right end allowed that to happen.

Chandler Jones, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Andre Carter – 25 Snaps

  • A common assortment in Week 9, as Ninkovich injured his ankle.

Rob Ninkovich, Isaac Sopoaga, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones – 21 Snaps

  • This quartet was first charted versus the Denver Broncos in Week 12, then again in Week 15 versus Miami.

Rob Ninkovich, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano, Chandler Jones – 20 Snaps

  • Siliga became New England’s late-season mainstay at defensive tackle, and Vellano became a rotational option behind Chris Jones.

Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, Tommy Kelly, Chandler Jones – 12 Snaps

  • This four-man line would have garnered more airtime  had Kelly’s season not been cut short.

Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Andre Carter, Chandler Jones – 10 Snaps

  • Similar to the three-defensive end line seen the start of the season, Carter’s return came at Buchanan’s expense. His playing time in the pass-rushing sub-package defense was trimmed.

Andre Carter, Isaac Sopoaga, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones – Nine Snaps

  • Isaac Sopoaga was acquired at the trade deadline and made his Patriots debut in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, where this line was first displayed.

Rob Ninkovich, Sealver Siliga, Andre Carter, Chandler Jones – Nine Snaps

  • This assortment played together in Week 16 and Week 17.

Jake Bequette, Joe Vellano, Chandler Jones, Michael Buchanan – Seven Snaps

  • The seldom-used Jake Bequette joined Buchanan and Chandler Jones in a three-defensive end front, while Vellano played the three-technique.

Andre Carter, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Michael Buchanan – Six Snaps

  • As Chandler Jones and Ninkovich earned much-needed rest on the sidelines, New England’s two rotational defensive ends managed to get on the field at the same time.

Rob Ninkovich, Sealver Siliga, Isaac Sopoaga, Chandler Jones – Six Snaps

  • A rare mixture of players, this occurred in the final minutes of Week 15 as Sopoaga made a subtle resurgence in the four-man front.

Rob Ninkovich, Isaac Sopoaga, Joe Vellano, Chandler Jones – Five Snaps

  • Sopoaga’s responsibilities tapered off once Siliga came aboard. He played a handful of snaps next to Vellano.

Rob Ninkovich, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano, Andre Carter – Five Snaps

  • This grouping took place in Week 15, when Chandler Jones left for a couple plays with a minor injury.

Rob Ninkovich, Andre Carter, Chandler Jones, Michael Buchanan – Three Snaps

  • The four-defensive end line happened in a blink of an eye, notching a trio of snaps with a lead well in hand against the Baltimore Ravens.

Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Andre Carter, Michael Buchanan – Three Snaps

  • This variety teamed up versus the Buffalo Bills in Week 17.

Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette – Three Snaps

  • Bequette appeared alongside Chandler Jones at right end for one series.

Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins – Three Snaps

  • Second-round “Bandit” linebacker Jamie Collins jumped into Buchanan’s role as a third edge-rusher in Week 8.

Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Marcus Forston, Chris Jones – Two Snaps

  • In this four-man line, which included practice-squad promotion Marcus Forston, Ninkovich played defensive end while Chandler Jones played outside linebacker.

Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork, Michael Buchanan – One Snap

  • Buchanan’s third-down rushing role wasn’t usually conducive to both Kelly and Wilfork being on the field.

Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly, Joe Vellano, Vince Wilfork – One Snap

  • New England flashed a three-defensive tackle line that sent Ninkovich and Wilfork to the seven-techniques.

Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Chandler Jones, Michael Buchanan – One Snap

  • Yet another pass-rushing line with Buchanan in Chandler Jones’ hip pocket.

Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins – One Snap

  • Together, they made an unlikely tandem, but Vellano and Collins were assigned to play defensive end for one snap against the Dolphins. Ninkovich merged to outside linebacker.

Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Andre Carter, Chandler Jones – One Snap

  • Carter stayed inside at the three-technique. Meanwhile, Vellano played strong-side defensive end.

Andre Carter, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga, Michael Buchanan – One Snap

  • Only once did these four clash. It was in the regular-season finale.

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6 Responses to “58 Defensive Line Combinations: A 2013 Patriots Personnel Study”

  1. cc says:

    Wouldn’t have this many questions OR variables if BB&CREW just pulled the trigger on Dontari Poe like they should have when they had the blatent op & need, by the way……..who & what did they take instead that’s on the chzoppin’ block??
    *Between this, the waisted time and pick of Mallet, still having Gronkinjuriski on the roster and knowing All the other glairing needz…………I expect another Division title for BB’s personal belt notch yes, another semi-luck run in the playoffs and another quick out…………sure makes me wish Brady would just get in BB’s grill a little bit and force him to beef up the roster properly so there was an actual fighting chance of a capping a SB WIN before TB12 is gone for good!

  2. Bobthebuilder says:

    Wilforks a total lock. Vet leAdership and isn’t getting cut after the contract negotiations.

  3. Stephen J says:

    Nice job Oliver.

    Do we sign Kevin Williams.

    What I like about it. Would give us a healthy reliable vet that can contribute. As well as another big body that could help with the run.

    What I don’t like about it. Its a short term replacement 1-2 yrs at the potential cost of losing a younger player like Siliga or Armstead. Armstead is exciting but all potential where Siliga seemed to be getting better with each passing week. Also like Chris Jones as a rotational guy.

  4. J H TARBORO says:

    Oliver Thomas, this breakdown was extrmely informative, thanks! Coming in to 2014 it’s going to come down to who makes the team and year 2 jump on the DL. I’m not going say Wilfolk and Kelly are locks at the position, kind of worried about Wilfolk he is still on the rehab field, i would like to see Siliga, Jones, Armstead, and Easley make the team along with Zach Moore.

  5. Jack says:

    Nice work! I can’t say I read through them all, but I’m looking forward even more to the combinations that Pats can put on the field this year, with Easley and hopefully Armstead contributing, and maybe even Zach Moore. One combination would have Chandler, Nink on the ends with Wilfork and Kelley in the middle, with Easley coming in for Wilfork or Kelley, or even Chandler/Nink, on passing downs. Siliga could spell in the interior on running downs. And Armstead if he pans out could come in and fill in in the interior on passing downs. And what if Zach Moore pans out? Then he could really help out spelling Nink/Jones. Once Wilfork and Kelley are done, Siliga, Easley and Armstead key the interior and Nink, Jones and Moore (hopefully) will be the mainstays on the outside.

  6. Eyeball says:

    An epic accomplishment, my man. Thank you Oliver!

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