By: Bob George/
September 11, 2005

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Was Tedy Bruschi's malaise frightening or serendipitous?

Serendipitous? The devil you say, say you. Naturally, anyone who roots for the Patriots would give their right arm to make Bruschi's February stroke fiction rather than fact. In fact, Bruschi's absence from the lineup perhaps has no bearing on the following discussion.

But maybe it does.

If you paid close attention to the Patriots' 30-20 win Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders, you perhaps saw the Patriots tinkering with a 4-3 defensive lineup. Chad Brown was injured early on in the contest, forcing the Patriots to have to use Monty Beisel solo at middle linebacker and adding a fourth down lineman, Jarvis Green. This was seen as "stopgap”, and might not have been attempted had Bruschi been healthy and able to play. Bruschi and Beisel would have been good enough to solidify the middle in a 3-4 alignment.

Instead, Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini experimented with using Green down low on right end. The results were both revealing and thought provoking.

This new alignment gave new meaning to the word "versatile”, especially where Richard Seymour is concerned. It also underscores the dire necessity for the Patriots to lock him up long term, as he is going to show the football world exactly why he is the best defensive lineman in the business.

In the 3-4, Seymour was the right end. In that alignment, all Seymour was asked to do was to tie up blockers, along with Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork. They do this so that the linebackers can make all the tackles and therefore get all the glory. This is a main reason why, over the last several years, the Patriot linebackers are considered the heart and soul of the Patriot defense.

But in the 4-3 alignment, you saw different things happen on Thursday night, things that should make Seymour, Wilfork and you the Patriot fan lick your chops as if you have been starving for a week and someone just presented you with a thick, juicy porterhouse steak.

The 4-3 alignment showed how well Seymour and Wilfork push offensive linemen backwards. Center Jake Grove was the primary target here, continually being driven backwards by both Wilfork and Seymour as if he were a lifeless blocking sled. Other Raider offensive linemen, save for right tackle Robert Gallery, were treated in a similar manner.

This such disruption led to the Raider turnover that helped seal the game for the Patriots. Seymour drove Grove into Kerry Collins, while at the same time Green was bearing in from the right side. The pocket completely collapsed on Collins, whereupon Green arrived and clobbered Collins on the throwing arm. Green got credit for stripping the ball from Collins, and Wilfork got credit for an "interception” (ruled as such because, despite Collins' arm not coming forward, the ball never touched the ground), but it was Seymour who made this play happen. Three plays later, Corey Dillon scored on an 8-yard touchdown run to pretty much put the game away.

The other benefit from this new alignment will be in the defensive stats for the linemen. In a 4-3, Seymour and Wilfork can go into more of an "attack” mode versus a "tie up blockers” mode. Seymour led the Patriots Thursday night in tackles, while a linebacker, Beisel, led in assists. This "reversal” of statistical normalcy is only the tip of the iceberg.

In watching Seymour and Wilfork treat the Raider offensive line pretty much like blocking sleds, one can only wonder how they will match up against the rest of the league. Granted, the Raider offensive line isn't one of the finest in the league, with left tackle Barry Sims being the most veteran and Gallery being the most heralded. But Seymour and Wilfork will wreak lots of havoc throughout their schedule this year, especially if Belichick "releases” those two and allows them to attack the quarterback more often.

Adding to this wonderful prospect is the rapid development of Warren. Though his defensive numbers weren't in the category of Seymour (three tackles, two assists), Warren has been much more effective in stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. Two of his tackles were stuffing LaMont Jordan for gains of two yards or less. He has picked up the slack brought on by the retirement of Ted Johnson in run defense.

If the Patriots decide to stick with this alignment, then one has to wonder what will happen to the two outside linebacker positions. You have Mike Vrabel on one side and Willie McGinest and Rosevelt Colvin on the other side, and all three men love to rush the quarterback.

There are drawbacks to this, but these Patriots might be able to work through it. Back in the 1990s, for example, Chris Slade was a devastating pass rushing outside linebacker who was very effective until defenses started dumping screen passes in his area. His poor pass defense skills then came into play, neutralizing his pass rushing excellence. One thing that the Patriots love to do to neutralize screens is to keep linebackers at home and watch them pounce on backs coming out of the backfield; Vrabel made one such stop on Jordan Thursday night.

If Bruschi returns next year, as he wants badly to do, you will probably see the Patriots return to a 3-4, with this year being the only year of a 4-3. Another rumor that has made its rounds is that Belichick doesn't want his defensive players running up gaudy stats (especially in sacks), which will hurt the club when contract negotiations come up. This is another explanation why the Patriots may be loath to the 4-3, but this is a year where they need to run it because it may simply be the best thing to do.

The Carolina Panthers are next up, with a much different offensive line than what the Patriots saw in Super Bowl XXXVIII. This is a club which is fresh off a home 23-20 loss to a New Orleans Saints team which has had to deal with the destruction of their home city. This Panther team will be hell bent on winning, but that should not deter the Patriots from attacking this offensive line in much the same way they did Oakland's.

Meanwhile, Seymour will sit at home, dream of the great year he is likely to have, and thank some super being for the eventual end of his holdout.