Patriots’ Front 7 Looks to Improve Against Vikings


I don’t know how it happened, but last week the Patriots somehow managed to put together the worst possible defensive unit they could have assembled.

Aside from Vince Wilfork, most of the defense just collapsed in the second half of the game last week against the Dolphins. The struggles of the front 7, especially in the second half, was one of the main problems for the Patriots last week.

First of all, I cannot make this more clear – the Patriots are not a 3-4 team. It was clear from the Dolphins game that three defensive lineman and four linebackers simply does not work for them. The three linemen could not plug up a single hole, and as the Dolphins kept running the ball in the second half, there was practically a 5 lane highway for Dolphins RB Knowshon Moreno.

The Patriots’ coaching staff knows that in a 3-4 formation, either the linemen or the linebackers have to “two gap”, or be able to block two different holes in the defensive line at the same time. Usually, most of the defensive line is big and physical, and is able to take on two offensive lineman at once. But other than Wilfork, the Pats’ offensive line wasn’t able to two-gap vs the Dolphins.

If any one of the linebackers drops back to cover the pass, at least one of the front seven will have to two gap. It’s just the way that the 3-4 works out – either all seven commit to defend the run, or somebody is going to have to two-gap in place of somebody else.

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Vince Wilfork, although he didn’t play his best, can still cover both A-Gaps (Both sides of the center). But the two other offensive linemen beside him, Chandler Jones and Joe Vellano, cannot.

Vellano is 300 pounds, but he’s only 6’1 and doesn’t have much experience taking on two offensive lineman. He struggled to hold down the right side against the Dolphins’ offensive linemen.

Chandler Jones is only 265 pounds. Asking him to hold his ground against a single offensive lineman, let alone two, is crazy. Jones’ lack of ability when it came down to two-gapping led to the Dolphins’ run game exploding for yards. The offensive tackle can seal Jones right out of the play, leaving a gigantic hole on the left side for Knowshon Moreno.

The big issue with the Patriots’ linebackers is their strength. When asked to two-gap, not one linebacker could really do it with consistent success. The Patriots probably thought that they could leave two-gapping responsibilities with the linebackers sometimes because they’re fast and can cover two gaps at once. But without Brandon Spikes, the Patriots really don’t have any linebackers who are big or strong enough to two gap.

Even if Jamie Collins or Jerod Mayo could set themselves up to tackle Moreno, most of the time an offensive lineman either sealed them off from the play or Moreno just ran them over. Collins is really an outside linebacker, but the Pats played him in the middle. Both Mayo and Collins weren’t physical enough in the game against the Dolphins.

The best solution for the Patriots’ defense is to go back to a 4-3 formation. Last week, the Patriots asked guys to play positions that they don’t really play. Their linebackers are fast, not big and strong. Other than Wilfork, you can’t expect any of the defensive line to plug up two different gaps up the middle.

We all expected the Patriots to take another step in being a good defensive team this year. And hopefully, with some modifications on defense, the Patriots’ front 7 can help earn their first win of the season against the Vikings on Sunday.