The injury to Vince Wilfork is the next in a long line of setbacks to what is now the most perplexing undefeated team in the NFL this season. Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, has been the foundation of the defense for the New England Patriots the last few years. The revelation yesterday that he would almost certainly miss the entire 2013 season is a tough pill for Patriots fans to swallow, but don’t worry too much. The loss of Wilfork isn’t as dire as it might seem.
Wilfork does his best work clogging up the middle of the line, making it hard for teams to find holes in the running game. This is a necessary skill for a team that runs a 3-4 defense, as the Patriots had done before last year. This season, after experimenting with it last year, they’ve fully made the transition to a 4-3 alignment. In the 4-3 there is nothing more expendable than an interior defensive lineman who doesn’t rush the passer well.
The reason that the Patriots made the switch to the 4-3 is a reaction to the new wave of NFL offenses. The way to stop the spread-option type teams is to line up four athletic defensive lineman who can rush the passer on the line, then back them up with different combinations of linebackers and defensive backs who can make plays in space.
Stopping the run becomes less of a priority in today’s game. The defensive linemen don’t need to be the old-school, immovable object types. Wilfork was great at that for years. When the team ran the 3-4, teams couldn’t take advantage of the space in the middle of the defense because of how dominant Wilfork was. Now that the team is running the 4-3, they can afford to plug in lesser talented replacements.
Vince Wilfork is a great player. What he does, he does as well as anyone in the league. The truth is, however, that what he does has become less and less valuable as the league goes away from the interior running game.
Ben Sullivan is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bensullivan52, “Like” him on Faceboook and add him to your network on Google.
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