By: Ian Logue
Chandler Jones joins a defense that looks like it should be much better in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
As the team heads into another week of training camp the Patriots will be in Washington this week for joint practices as they get set for their first exhibition game of the year on Thursday night.
So far, especially defensively, this is a unit that appears to be coming together, with Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY highlighting a moment from practice last week where the defense made a major goal line stop and celebrated collectively after making the play.
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich hit running back Stevan Ridley first, with a half-dozen others joining him just after and taking Ridley down short of the goal line.
“Hell, no! We won’t go! Hell, no! We won’t go!” they reportedly chanted, pumping fists, high-fiving and bumping chests. It’s exactly the type of camaraderie that is great to see at this point in camp and this is a group that looks confident at this point in the preseason.
During that same series prior to their goal line stand, Darrelle Revis also stepped in front of a pass from Tom Brady and returned it for a touchdown. That play was celebrated as well and Brady acknowledged how dangerous both Revis and newcomer Brandon Browner are, which as a quarterback, closes the margin for error for whoever they’re facing.
If Tom Brady and the offense can continue their success scoring points in 2014, the Patriots revamped defense should have them poised for plenty of success.
(USA TODAY Images)
“They’re both great players, so when you make a mistake, they make you pay, and I think that’s the mark of a really good corner,” said Brady. “As a quarterback, you’re always trying to find the weak link in the defense, and neither of those guys are weak links. Sometimes, we’ve got to go after them, [and] we’ve got to try to see if we can make a play. But like I said, if you miss a little bit, they end making the play. It’s great work for us, and you understand what you’re up against.”
Those are moments that give fans a glimpse of what may be in store for 2014. So far this football team is showing signs that they’re going to be tougher to handle this year defensively, which will hopefully allow them to hold opponents in check a little better than they’ve done in previous seasons. Offensively, scoring points hasn’t been that big of an issue, with the Patriots tied for second offensively in points-per-game with 27.8 in 2013. However, slowing teams down has been an area of contention after they allowed an average of 373.1 yards per game, ranking them 26th in the league.
With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly returning and both looking strong thus far in camp, much of what ailed this team last season appears to be an area that will be better this year. This is a team that allowed opposing teams to have success running against them last season, giving an average of 134.1 yards per game on the ground and a lot of those problems started after both Wilfork and Kelly were lost for the season early in the year.
The linebacker position also looks improved thanks to the return of Jerod Mayo, with Dont’a Hightower and second-year linebacker Jamie Collins among players who have also looked good early on.
There’s still a long way to go before the season is here, but there appears to be plenty of reason to be optimistic. This week they’ll finally get a chance to start hitting opposing players, which will give Bill Belichick an opportunity to get a glimpse at how they’ll potentially fare against an opponent other than themselves.
“Obviously we’re not game planning for them or anything,” said Belichick on Friday. “We’ll just go down there, do what we do and they’ll do what they do and we’ll kind of figure it out as we go. It will be a good experience for us to work against Coach [Jay] Gruden’s offense, Coach [Jim] Haslett’s defense and see some different matchups.
“We’ve seen our guys go against our guys a lot and now we’ll get to see them go against somebody else. I think we’re all looking forward to it. I think it will be a helpful evaluation for our team.”