Pass rush makes Patriots defense dangerous

The Patriots have seen this movie before, multiple times in the recent past. The defense opens the season by shutting down outmatched opponents, only to falter later in the year when the degree of difficulty increases.

In truth, that may be the case again this season. Up to this point, the Patriots have faced three quality offenses: Miami, Baltimore and Detroit, and have lost to two of them. The defense was largely uncompetitive in the Ravens game, with the only win coming against the lowly Lions and Jared Goff.

Otherwise, it’s been a steady stream of backups (Mitch Trubisky, Jacoby Brissett, Sam Ehlinger) and other failed offenses (Green Bay, Jets twice). By the time they faced Chicago, the Bears would have fallen into this category as well, but have since seen Justin Fields emerge as a dynamic threat. He attacked the Patriots’ defense in a home loss on Monday night.

Based on the Bears’ offensive performance since that night, that would actually be four productive offenses faced and three disappointing results. With Minnesota, twice Buffalo, Arizona, Cincinnati and Miami yet to come, it would be understandable if cynics hoped to be convinced that this year could be different from past years when it comes to maintaining strong defensive play.

But looking at the way the Patriots have dominated, there’s one thing that stands out as different from recent iterations and that’s the pass rush. Led by the league leader by Mateo Judón 13 sacks, the forward seven have terrified opposing quarterbacks.

Bill Belichick’s defenses haven’t always had the ability to attack the quarterback like the Patriots have in 10 games this season. New England ranks second in the league in sacks per pass play and its 35 sacks are also second, both behind Dallas.

From 2011-21, the Patriots have never led the NFL in sacks. They finished second in 2015, fifth in 2013 and ninth in 2017. New England advanced to the conference title game in 2013 and 2015 and went to the Super Bowl in 2017. If Judon continues to set the pace, he would become the first Patriot to lead the league in sacks.

That formula of creating pressure would seem more tenable than trying to contain the passing game strictly through coverage disguises as they have done in the past. Controlling Zach Wilson is much easier than controlling Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, but making them uncomfortable might be a better way to get the job done.

Assuming Judon can come close to keeping up with his pace, something he couldn’t do a year ago, the defense might be better positioned to avoid the late-season fade this time around. Belichick has wisely limited Judon’s plays at times throughout the season, cutting his workload by about 10 percent from last year in an effort to keep him fresh.

Judon’s production, along with some imaginative quick schemes they have consistently produced, have put the defense in position to succeed. At times in the Jets win, the Patriots ran multiple defensive backs while dropping would-be running backs in shallow areas. Those wrinkles have allowed the front seven to chase the passer without sending out extra running backs and thus exposing the secondary, and that’s a formula for sustained success.

It kicks off Thanksgiving night in Minnesota against an offense that’s more talented than the Jets and Colts, but shouldn’t be expected to run wild. And it all starts up front, where the Patriots have controlled most games with a front seven that has hounded opposing quarterbacks all season. If it continues, so will the defensive dominance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *