Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Saturday, December 1, 2012
Big Decision: Best way to employ D-line?

By Mike Rodak

The day before each game this season, this space will feature one big decision facing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff, in terms of the game plan.

This week's decision: How should the Patriots use their personnel along the defensive line?

DolphinsPatriotsThere are a few different factors that have made this is an area of concern for the Patriots heading into Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

First, an ankle injury to defensive end Chandler Jones will keep him out of a second straight game, while his replacement last week, Jermaine Cunningham, was suspended this week. Moreover, defensive tackle Kyle Love was downgraded to limited in practice this week with a knee injury, after seeing limited reps in New York on Thanksgiving night.

Second, the Patriots' run defense has faded since an impressive start to the season. In their first six games, the Patriots allowed an average of just 83 rushing yards per game, while they've given up 123 yards per game in their past five contests.

So what changes could be made?

One option would be to simply substitute Trevor Scott in at defensive end in place of Jones/Cunningham, and keep the rest of the line the same. It's unlikely, however, that he would be able to help shore up the run defense, or replace Jones' or Cunningham's production in the pass rush.

The other option would be to shift more into a 3-4 defensive look, which the Patriots have done occasionally this season. Brandon Deaderick, who started Super Bowl XLVI for the Patriots last February, would see more playing time in this scenario, alongside a line of Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork. That would likely be sturdier against the run.

However, that would entail relying more on Rob Ninkovich in the pass rush, whether he has his hand in the dirt as a defensive end, or he stands up as a linebacker. But if the Patriots feel that they can get some production out of linebacker blitzes, especially from Brandon Spikes or Dont'a Hightower, then that's a route they could take.

What do you think? Should the Patriots rely on Trevor Scott to play Chandler Jones' dual role in the defense? Or should they use Brandon Deaderick to be stouter against the run, and look for pass rush elsewhere?

Vote in the poll and join the discussion in the comments section below.