By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots have begun their June Mini-Camp, and that means that we are not that far away from Patriots Training Camp which begins at the end of July. As we inch closer to the beginning of the new season, I’m focused on an area of execution by the defense that needs improvement, and I am hoping two additions to the defensive tackle position will provide a solution to this problem. Can Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead be the solution to the Patriots interior pass rush?
I have listened and read so much talk about the lack of a defensive pass rush from the Patriots for several seasons now. I am not disagreeing with that statement, but I am going to be more specific to what area of the pass rush is really lacking.
The Patriots I feel are not lacking with the pass rush on the outside as the two players currently on the edges are getting to the quarterback. Defensive End Chandler Jones as a rookie had 6 sacks last season, and also did a pretty decent job with getting pressure on the quarterback in general. On the other side, Defensive End, Rob Ninkovich ended the the regular season last year with 8 sacks, and did a nice job overall as an outside pass rusher.
The issue I see is the inside pass rush which is just not pushing the pocket back enough, and this has been a problem for awhile. Vince Wilfork has been a great interior defensive lineman for the Patriots for several seasons, but he cannot push the pocket alone from the inside, and really needs someone that can be a pass rusher next to him.
For the past three seasons Defensive Tackle Kyle Love did a great job at stopping the run, but really could not create much pressure to the quarterback when their were passing situations. Last season Love had 1.5 sacks, and Wilfork had 3 sacks.
I believe the Patriots acknowledged this interior pass rush issue a few seasons ago when they brought in Albert Haynesworth. Unfortunately, the experiment of lining him up next to Wilfork did not work, but I could tell that the Patriots were trying to take care of the problem by trying to find Wilfork a partner inside that could get after the quarterback.
Back in the 2003 season, the Patriots were missing one piece of the puzzle, and that was nose tackle on defense. They traded right before the season began for Ted Washington, and he was the answer to the problem. At that time the issue was stopping the run, but his presence at that position changed the defense.
Now, I am going to look ahead to a problem I see on the defense, and that is finding a partner for Wilfork on the inside to create a tandem that could be a force with an interior pass rush.
The Patriots recently released two defensive tackles as Love and Brandon Deaderick are no longer with the team. However, two players have been brought in this off-season to play the Defensive Tackle position. Can either be the answer to fix the interior pass rush?
The Patriots first signed Armond Armstead, who played last season in the CFL for the Toronto Argonauts and is 22 years old. He played his college football at USC but went undrafted. However, he put up some impressive numbers in Canada, and was able to get after the quarterback. For his rookie season, he had 43 tackles, and 6 sacks, and was named a CFL All Star.
I understand that the level of play in the CFL is not to the level of the NFL, but he made an impact in Canada, and I feel deserves a chance with the Patriots. I guess only time will tell if he is the answer for the ailing interior pass rush.
The Patriots also signed former Oakland Raiders Defensive Tackle Tommy Kelly who is 32 years old. Last season was not fantastic for him as he only had one sack. However, in 2010, he had 7 sacks and in 2011 he had 7.5 sacks. Overall Kelly has been a very productive player, and is worth bringing in to see if the can be the answer to this problem that the Patriots are having.
The Patriots defense has improved the last couple of seasons, and might be ready to take a dramatic jump. However, fixing the issue of the interior pass rush could be a huge key to take the defense to the next level.
As we look ahead to the 2013 Patriots season, many are concentrating on the potential issues that the Patriots might have on offense. As we go to Training Camp in July, I will be focused on the defense, and specifically the two additions to the Patriots Defensive Tackle position. The ability of Kelly and Armstead to make a difference with an interior pass rush could be very important to the progression of this Patriots defense becoming a strength once again.