Defending the spread offense

July, 7, 2012
7/07/12
11:00
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Two defining themes of the Patriots' offseason have been:

1. Building better depth on the roster
2. Redefining the focus on defense

Bill Belichick addressed the defensive-minded focus during the NFL Draft when he said, "It seems like every year, the game is getting a little more spread out for us. We're in nickel defense [5 DBs] more and more every year -- over 50 percent last year. It's hard to be in our base defense as much as we were in the past."

Statistics to support Belichick's point were shared last month (link here), and the team's defensive-heavy approach at the draft -- adding players who fit more in the "spread out" NFL -- was also highlighted in that regard (link here).

Reviewing those pieces, and then reading senior producer Greg Cosell's most recent story on NFLFilms.com about "The Evolving Chess Match", it all ties together into one package that captures the key to the Patriots' defense potentially turning a more decisive corner.

"We will likely see more teams employ the Houston Texans’ model," Cosell writes. "They played dime (six defensive backs), not nickel. That allowed them to field better athletes with more scheme versatility and greater body flexibility and agility to play in space, i.e., coverage. It was not an accident Houston had one of the best defenses in the NFL last season. ... Here’s the reality of the NFL with the 2012 season right around the corner: It’s much more of a spread game than it’s ever been."

One more thought on this topic: It might also explain why a "tweener" like second-round draft choice Tavon Wilson -- a 6-foot, 203-pound safety who initially projects to sub packages in a possible linebacker-type role -- was valued higher by the Patriots than perhaps he might have been a few years ago.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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