NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Defending the run is a concept that’s simple in theory yet complex in practice.
It’s a concept that the New England Patriots defensive front is still vying to collectively grasp without reinforcement from defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Currently, New England’s defense ranks 31st in the NFL with 138 rushing yards allowed per game and 26th with 4.6 yards allowed per attempt. And head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have taken schematic measures to avert that trend.
Whether it’s been rooted in matchups or attrition, the front seven has transitioned to more of a 3-4 base of late. The move has bulked the defensive line with an assemblage of rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, veteran nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and practice-squad promotion Sealver Siliga. It has also spelled defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich at outside linebacker, a step back from their traditional stomping grounds.
The rise of the three-man defensive line has impacted more than those who align there, however; it has impacted the responsibilities of linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes.
With an already-depleted retaining wall in front of them, the two have seen offensive linemen upfield at a prolific rate this season. So having one less interior disruptor on the field for much of Week 13 against the Houston Texans only heightened it. (more…)