Happy New Years, all. I've had the d on my mind throughout the entire season. I was probably over optimistic at times, but I still think that it was the strongest part of the team this year. I have been impressed with their ability to get off the field when needed. I have been impressed with their ability to dial up the blitz. I have been most impressed by some of the creativity behind the plays and sets. Overall, I think that this is an extremely skilled squad. I think that the "lack of a pass rush" thing is just an easy term for the uneducated to throw out there. The fact of the matter is that a weak pass rush isn't a new problem for the Patriots. 08 was probably the worst year, with 07 being quite close as well. At least this season the team has the horses to run the race. This is the first season in quite a few years that the team has legitimate NFL speed on defense. If you have the speed to get to the QB, you can actually send people. Scheme can compensate for lack of an elite edge rusher, and we are seeing more and more blitzing from this team. This is indicative of the players getting what the coaches are trying to do, and the coaches trusting their players ability to reach the QB. While I certainly think that a legit pass rusher (in additon to another serviceable TBC type) is needed, I think that too much emphasis is placed upon the OLB in the 34 getting your heat. Let's consider pass protection schemes. At it's most basic, pass blocking schemes are set up as a "mug" protection. Often, you hear the "cup" protection, but it is more of a "mug". Cup protection forms a semi-circle pocket, mug protection has the guards and center staying more stout in their protection, as the tackles bring the ends upfield. This facilitates sliding much better than cup protection schemes. Too much emphasis is placed on edge rushers simply beating a tackle, end, or back (usually a combination) and getting a shot on the QB as he hits his hitch step. Largely, Belichick was responsible for this line of thought with the way he utilized the real LT. It really is much more than that, though. Pass rush is primarily about taking away avenues of escape. Be it sliding, throwing lanes, or hot reads, the rush needs to take these away to be effective. As an example, take a look at the best pocket slider in the NFL, #12. He is extremely tough to get after because he understands where the pressure is coming from, where in the pocket he can move to, and where his help is. When Brady is pressured effectively, teams understand how he moves. He has an initial slide, usually caused by an edge guy getting upfield. Brady then slides towards the B gap and uses the forward momentum of his step to deliver a strike either downfield or to a zone vacated by an extra rusher. When he is taken down, the defense beats a guard or center and puts a guy directly into the slide. This is accomplished by interior rush. The inverse of this situation is also true. Inside rush can also flush a QB into an end. We are seeing this type of complimentary pass rush from the Patriots recently. They understand how QB's move in the pocket and take advantage of it. The safeties and ILB's are becoming highly proficient rushers, and it is showing more and more on the field as the inside rush becomes a halmark of this Patriots team. Yes, they do need an elite edge guy to create a true swarm, but they are compensating quite well. As we're on the topic of defending the pass, let's talk about the secondary. I've been the biggest Bodden cheerleader since the beginning of the season, and he's made the fandom worth it. He doesn't get a lot of credit, but he is playing at an extremely high level. He is one of the best press corners I have seen in a long time. He is highly effective with his jam. He is fluid in his backpedal, side stride, and sprint. He also can play zone extremely well. He drives well off of his plant foot, and is the surest tackler in the secondary. The safety play is well known, so there is really no need to dive into that. We all know how good the young group of safeties is, and I think that Chung is going to become an elite SS in the league. Butler is progressing nicely, and I think that he is going to develop quite well. He is clearly a great athlete, has excellent ball skills, and I am pleasently suprised by his willingness to throw his body around. A major component of the championship Patriot defenses was a swarming, physical, opportunistic secondary that could stick across the board. This unit is moving towards this level rapidly. The backers need some help. Mayo is playing out of position in the base 34, and when compounded with the injury, his play is suffering significantly. He is a cornerstone 34 Will. He needs a Mike to play next to in order to create an elite ILB corps. Guyton is a good young player, but he is much better suited to passing situations and pursuit than he is a run player. He can't get off of blocks well, and he can't stone momentum at the NFL level. Mayo is better than Guyton in this regard, but he is still a better sideline to sideline player than a complete Mike. This is probably the most significant position of need in the front seven. It can be adressed in the draft, and maybe McKenzie is that guy. The team desperately needs a guard destroyer, more so than they need a beast Sam or Jack. Passing on Jason Phillips still stings. The D-Line needs Wilfork for the long term. He is the best nose in the game right now, and extending him is of tremendous importance. Warren is still a great player, and likely one of the most stout defenders in the league. His game is elevating lately as well. He is becoming pretty heady out there with his recognition and improvisation, and this should continue to improve. I think that if Green leaves, the team needs a replacement. Brace isn't the guy, he's a backup nose. He lacks the length to play the outside techniques, but I do think that people are far too hard on him. I'm optimistic on Brace, as nose at the professional level is extremely challenging until technique is mastered. He has the foundation, his challenge is to expand upon it. Pryor isn't the guy, either. He's a solid depth guy who can provide a blow for the starters when needed. He isn't going to be more than that. Wright could start on most NFL lines, and is a solid player overall. Highly active for a guy his size, has tremendous footwork and hand technique, plays the run well. They do need to secure a long term replacement for Seymour, though. I think that the offense can't decide what it wants to be, and is too predictable to cary the team in the tournament. There are going to be games when the defense needs to win it. As the adage goes, defense wins championships. Is this unit elite? No, but they do have the athleticism and versitility to execute a BB scheme. I haven't felt this way in quite a while. Come playoff time, I'll take an undervalued defense with the ability to execute the gameplans of the greatest defensive mind in history of the game anytime. The offense will need to play well enough to allow the D some breathers, but I feel that this unit, for the first time in five years, can win a championship for the Patriots. Have at me.