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Patriots Week: Talking 4-3 defense with Pats Pulpit

It's hard to believe, but the Buffalo Bills' regular season opener against the New England Patriots is one week from today.  In preparation for next week's Monday Night Football festivities, we'll be exchanging short interviews with our Patriots blogging counterparts, Pats Pulpit, throughout the week to touch on several key points heading into the game.

Right now, the big story out of New England is the trade of DE Richard Seymour to Oakland.  There had been - well, more than whispers; shouts, really - that the Patriots would be switching predominantly to a 4-3 defense this season.  The trade of Seymour, coupled with the retirement of ILB Tedy Bruschi, indicates that the move is rather ironclad.

But that doesn't mean the Bills will see 4-3 looks exclusively next Monday.  Bill Belichick is still coaching the Patriots, after all - and he, more than anyone, is masterful at disguising defensive looks.  I spoke with our Patriots blogger, MaPatsFan of the Pulpit, about his team's transition to the 4-3.  Hear what he had to say, along with a thought or two of my own, after the jump.

Me: How legit is the Patriots' supposed transition to a 4-3 defense? Is it more something they've been trying out to use as a wrinkle, or is this now their base defense?

MaPatsFan: I think it's very legit that the Patriots will move to a 4-3 alignment.  However, I wouldn't put it past them to switch to a 3-4 every once in a while to mix things up.  Even when New England was pegged as a 3-4, they moved things around a bit.  That being said, there are some reasons why it seems apparent a 4-3 is in the picture:

a) Lack of pass rushing depth at LB;
b) Acquisitions of hybrid DE/LBs Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess;
c) Rookie DL Ron Brace is coming up to speed fast;
d) Trade of DL Richard Seymour, who's not a 4-3 DE.

In the early off-season, we'd made serious inquiries into Julius Peppers and Jason Taylor as pass rushing OLBs; nothing panned out and the acquisitions of Burgess and Banta-Cain makes a very strong case for a 4-3. We've been weak at getting into the backfield, and many in Patriots land hope this is the answer to our pass rushing problems.

Let's not forget why the Patriots missed the playoffs in 2008 - their defense wasn't great.  While a Tom Brady-less offense finished No. 5 in the NFL, the defense didn't make enough plays, even while finishing No. 10 defensively.  The Patriots only had 30 sacks - which, obviously, makes Buffalo's totals look weak, but in themselves are weak as well - and now Seymour and his team-leading eight sacks are gone.  The team's 14 interceptions were a far cry from their heyday (and only four more than the Bills themselves tallied), and much of their veteran talent looked very much as if they were on the downside of their career.

Now,  this is a defense in transition.  Many of their starters were jettisoned.  They've been replaced by run-of-the-mill veterans and talented rookies in most cases.  Considering the list of talented pass rushers the Bills will face later this season when they take on the likes of Mario Williams, Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney, the trio of Adalius Thomas, Derrick Burgess and Tully Banta-Cain looks pretty timid in comparison.

Buffalo's oft-referenced struggles with the 3-4 defense are well documented.  However, New England doesn't have the personnel to run that scheme every down this year.  Here's what you'll likely see on Monday Night: if New England runs a 3-4, they'll do it on run downs, so that they can disguise run blitzes and put pressure on the Bills' youthful offensive line.  In passing situations, however, they're not likely to get much pressure out of a 3-4; that's when you'll see the 4-3 come into play.

Just like in Buffalo, the pass rush is New England's biggest issue, and the 4-3 switch is intended to alleviate that problem, as MaPatsFan mentioned.  Coupled with a young secondary that struggled in the pre-season, there are plays to be had for the Bills on Monday Night - even if the Bills themselves are very much a work in progress offensively.

Be sure to drop by Pats Pulpit throughout the week, as they will, in turn, be having several Bills-centric discussions.  Bet you can't guess what MaPatsFan asked me first!