In Sunday’s Super Bowl XXXIX win over the Philadelphia Eagles at ALLTEL Stadium, the Patriots scrapped the 3-4 two-gap base defense it used all season and went with what could be termed a light 4-3 front that included only two defensive linemen and five linebackers.
In two weeks, the Patriots abandoned what got them there. They went away from the 3-4 front that helped them win 16 of 18 games before Super Bowl XXXIX. Sure, they are a multiple front defense, but even when they play four down linemen at times, they play it with 3-4 principles and two-gap techniques unless in the nickel or another subpackage when everything goes out the window.
Sunday, they scrapped it all. They played in the gaps. They played head up on the guards with the center uncovered. They played shading the center and over the center. They penetrated. They rushed. And they blitzed early and often...
the outside linebackers were asked to play with their hand on the ground even on early downs when the Eagles run was a threat. Of course, it turned out to be no threat at all. With five defensive linemen rotating into two defensive tackle spots, the middle of the line was strong and fresh all night while the perimeter guys, those versatile linebackers, did a remarkable job blowing up outside runs and setting the edge. Philly ran it only 17 times for 45 yards with 22 of those coming on one Brian Westbrook run. That made the Eagles one-dimensional and the man coverage was good enough to make McNabb hold the ball while the heat was turned up around to him.
“We never really played a 3-4,” Belichick said. “We felt like we needed to get as much pass rush on the field as possible to get McNabb and try to contain him. We knew chasing him around all day was going to be a long and tough proposition. We tried to match up as best we could with our best pass rushers.”