Change is here.
After running a 3-4 base defense for nearly a decade, things will look different in Foxboro this year.
And why would this be a surprise?
Despite 25 interceptions, New England’s defense surrendered 258.5 passing yards per game, good for third-worst in the league.
When it came to third-down defense, none performed worse than the Patriots who allowed a league-high 47.1 percent completion percentage.
The root of the problem lies in the pass rush, or lack thereof.
The team lacked the top-tier pass rushers off the edge, especially at the outside linebacker position.
Now, the scheme has been adapted to fit the personnel.
Bill Belichick has masterfully bought low on several key veterans, none bigger in personality or stature than former Pro Bowler and Washington Redskins bust Albert Haynesworth.
The mammoth free agent bust was picked up for a 2013 fifth-rounder and early reports state he is dominating in practice.
After refusing to play nose tackle in Washington’s new 3-4 defense, Big Al should thrive next to Vince Wilfork in the middle of a four-man line.
With Haynesworth playing the three-technique, Wilfork should play a similar role in the 4-3 as he did in the old scheme. His primary role will most likely be to draw double teams, which should allow the linebackers to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
One of the big problems with converting to a 4-3 is the lack of edge rushers. According to reports, Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore have been underwhelming in practice in getting to the quarterback.
Therein lies the genius of Coach Belichick.
On Sunday, the Patriots got better while weakening their biggest rival by signing former Jets defensive lineman Shaun Ellis to a one-year deal.
The 6-foot-5, 290-pounder has racked up 72.5 career sacks and has experience playing defensive end in both systems and can line up inside on passing downs.
However, the acquisitions didn’t stop there.
New England added another veteran pass rusher in Andre Carter.
Like Ellis, Carter is scheme versatile, although he has excelled as a 4-3 end far more than a 3-4 outside linebacker.
With the additions of Carter and Ellis, the Pats have significantly upgraded their defensive line with both experience and talent.
This should allow Cunningham and Moore to become situational players in case they aren’t ready for starting roles.
With a front four of Ellis/WIlfork/Haynesworth and Carter/Cunningham, the Pats will have more opportunities to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and get after the quarterback.
More importantly, the size alone of the Ellis/Wilfork/Haynesworth trio should help maximize the talents of Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes.
Obviously the transition will have some bumps in the road, but could the defense possibly be any worse than last year?
Without a doubt there is more talent on defense this season.
Now it’s time to harness it.