Is the Pats' Defense Starting to Gel?

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mayoclinic

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I know, it's ridiculously early. We've only played 1 preseason game, and are barely halfway through training camp. But there seems to be a sense of energy, aggressiveness, swagger, cohesion and playmaking on defense the likes of which haven't been seen since the heyday of Big Sey, Willie Mac, Tedy, Vrabes, Ty and Rodney. Not to suggest that the current group can compare yet, but there certainly seems to be something that's been missing since at least 2007 and probably more like 2004.

Every day brings more reports suggesting that this defense will be markedly different from the past 5+ years. More aggressive. More versatile. Better front-back communication. More situational awareness. More playmaking, within a disciplined framework. Less vanilla.

From Field Yates today:

Defense stacks another solid day. The Patriots kept the Saints out of the end zone during their preseason opener, and the defense has been sharp in practice since. Once again the defense looked to get the better of the offense on Wednesday, with evidence mostly stemming from the defensive front smothering the offensive line. The Patriots were quick off the edge in pass rush, and were like sledge hammers up the interior of the defensive line. The defense is also playing with what looks like a tremendous amount of confidence and swagger. Communication on all three levels is apparent, and the players can be heard from the sidelines supporting their teammates after positive plays. After a string of three particularly dominant plays from the defense, quarterback Tom Brady was riled up and sternly encouraged his offensive teammates -- perhaps trying to signal to his huddle that it was time to pick it up.

Bequette powers through. Rookie defensive end Jake Bequette started camp a little slowly, but has really picked it up in recent practices. Today, he showed some bullish power during 1-on-1's, nearly barreling over an offensive tackle. We've seen him align both inside and on the edge, and he could be a factor in the pass rush this season.

Fire zone? It may have been designed to give the offense a look it will see at some point during the season, but it appeared the Patriots executed a zone blitz that included sending defensive end Chandler Jones backpedaling into coverage. It looks like he's picking up more and more responsibility by the day.

Speaking of Jones...
One aspect to Jones' frame that is impossible to ignore is his set of extremely long arms. He continues to overwhelm blockers with those arms, using them to leverage, counter and fight through what comes his way. Jones has impressive wire-strength through his arms and base, and catches eyes almost daily.

Camp Observations: Day 21 - New England Patriots Blog - ESPN Boston

And from Greg Bedard:

- The coverage continues to be much-improved in the secondary, where Sterling Moore split time with Ras-I Dowling as the nickel cornerback. We thought Tavon Wilson might be headed for a tight end-killer role, and he’s delivering on that. He’s providing excellent coverage, including a pass breakup when Brady tried to find Gronkowski in the end zone.

- Saw Chandler Jones line up at left end a few times. That hasn’t happened in a while. We also saw him deep down the field in coverage in what was likely a zone exchange coverage where a lineman replaces a rushing linebacker or defensive back in coverage.

Practice rundown #16 - Extra Points - Boston.com

First zone blitzes. Jones at RDE, standing up, at LDE, dropping into coverage, getting his long arms up to clog the passing lanes. Bequette playing inside as well as out. Good safety and overall secondary play, with Chung-Gregory looking like a solid combo and Tavon Wilson playing multiple roles as well. Dowling looking more and more comfortable. Kyle Love looking like a horse in the middle alongside Vince Wilfork. Jonathan Fanene looking like a big time mismatch before he got hurt. A lot of things that haven't been seen in a long while. And it's not just one or two isolated reports. It seems like every day we're hearing about Mayo's playmaking at WLB, Hightower's versatility and physicality, Jones' long arms, versatility and manhandling of OLs, the teamwork of the secondary leading to turnovers and big plays, and more.

Matthew Geagan from CBSBoston noted today:

After 20 days of camp and one preseason game, the defensive unit is starting to feel themesleves becoming just that: a unit working as one.

"We’ve been flying around trying to make plays on the ball and priding ourselves on working on our communication and things like that,” said veteran safety Steve Gregory. “It’s been getting better every day.”

Tuesday was a very good day for the defense, as they forced a number of turnovers and bad plays by the offense during practice. Forcing such a talented offensive group into a number of mishaps only boosts the defense’s confidence.

“We’re the type of guys that can cover. That’s what I do best, cover guys,” said Gregory. A key part of that will be communication in the secondary, which Arrington said is coming along. “[It’s] huge, if not the biggest factor back there,” he said. “We’re putting a lot of hours in, that’s what [this] time is for. The more we communicate, the more comfortable back there we are with one another.”


Patriots Defense Starting To Jell, ‘Getting Better Every Day’ « CBS Boston

Mike Reiss noted after the Saints game:

Of all the encouraging signs, it was the performance of the new-look New England defense that had to have Belichick most pleased, or as pleased as a coach can be this early in the preseason. For a short stretch at the start of the game, Belichick's defensive vision for the revamped unit came to life.

This is a faster, more athletic defense, the result of subtracting one 290- to 300-pound defensive lineman and replacing him with a player 30 to 40 pounds lighter who could be categorized as either a defensive end or an outside linebacker depending on how you view the scheme. Belichick said earlier in the year that NFL football is being played more in space, which puts a higher premium on players who can run, and that's partially why he's reduced the bulk this year.

It was a defense with a different look than what Saints quarterback Drew Brees remembers facing in past years. Brees hit on one of Belichick's big offseason alterations on D and how the changing NFL game has seemingly altered his value of defensive personnel, thus leading to a different approach in how he's built the 2012 Patriots.

One might sum it up this way: Bigger isn't always better if it compromises your athleticism. As for the whole 4-3 versus 3-4 debate, Belichick's defenses will almost assuredly never do just one thing, so it's a safe bet to assume that the 3-4 will be mixed in at some point.

The Patriots' defense proved tough enough against the run and athletic enough against the pass, both in coverage and with the pass rush. "I thought we played competitively against both the running and passing game," Belichick said after his film review. Belichick has said it for years -- a good defense is one that marries the coverage with the pass rush. Good coverage helps the pass rush. And in turn, an aggressive pass rush helps the coverage. If the Patriots can play like they did Thursday, combining both elements, a defensive turnaround might be a realistic possibility for 2012.

New England Patriots' new-look defense makes good impression - ESPN Boston

Both Wes Welker and BB himself commented on the level of play from the defense over the past several days:

The Patriots’ defense has been the better overall unit during the last two practices. They forced a bunch of turnovers yesterday (four interceptions and one fumble, at least) for their most productive session of camp. The turnovers weren’t there to that extent today, but the defense was the more imposing unit in the trenches.

They’ve created some strong momentum heading into tomorrow’s practice, and wide receiver Wes Welker is enjoying the battles. “Obviously, they’re doing a good job,” Welker said. “It’s been a very competitive camp on both sides of the ball, and that’s what we need.”

Bill Belichick complimented the defense earlier today.

“I think they’re working hard,” Belichick said. “Of course, we won’t get put to the full test until we get to the regular season, in any area of the game, but we have to compete against our offense every day. I think they’re working hard. We’ll see where we’re at. We still have a long way to go, but I like their attitude and their work ethic, and we have good competition at several positions. We’ll see how all that works out.”

BostonHerald.com - Blogs: The Blitz» Blog Archive » Bill Belichick, Wes Welker like competition between Patriots’ offense and defense

Again, it's ridiculously early, and I know it's just training camp. But there's an energy and a feeliong from the defense that I can't remember in a long time, and it's hard not to get a little excited.
 

Joker

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Thank you for this post....it means a lot to be able to sit down after a long day and get everything I wanted to know put out there in a nicely ordered post.
 

mayoclinic

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Thank you for this post....it means a lot to be able to sit down after a long day and get everything I wanted to know put out there in a nicely ordered post.

One of the things that I like best is that there seems to be a lot of camaraderie and cohesiveness on defense. Syracuse grad Steve Gregory has apparently embraced Syracuse grad Chandler Jones as his "little brother". Chung and Gregory have apparently bonded. Brandon Spikes has apparently become a huge Dont'a Hightower fan. The 2011 team was notable for it's cohesiveness and for everyone being on the same page, but the defensive talent was lacking in some key areas. The talent is much better this year, and the cohesiveness looks stronger than ever.

The other encouraging thing is the swagger and confidence. BB will never let this team become full of itself like the Jets, but the defense has sort of played with its tail between its legs the past few years. This feels different, like they know what they can do and can't wait to get unleashed. That's refreshing. Seems like the kind of thing we would see out of Pittsburgh and Baltimore and keep wishing for. Obviously, BB will make sure that it's all within a structured and disciplined framework, but a little attitude and controlled aggression would be nice.
 

ausbacker

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One of the things that I like best is that there seems to be a lot of camaraderie and cohesiveness on defense. Syracuse grad Steve Gregory has apparently embraced Syracuse grad Chandler Jones as his "little brother". Chung and Gregory have apparently bonded. Brandon Spikes has apparently become a huge Dont'a Hightower fan. The 2011 team was notable for it's cohesiveness and for everyone being on the same page, but the defensive talent was lacking in some key areas. The talent is much better this year, and the cohesiveness looks stronger than ever.

The other encouraging thing is the swagger and confidence. BB will never let this team become full of itself like the Jets, but the defense has sort of played with its tail between its legs the past few years. This feels different, like they know what they can do and can't wait to get unleashed. That's refreshing. Seems like the kind of thing we would see out of Pittsburgh and Baltimore and keep wishing for. Obviously, BB will make sure that it's all within a structured and disciplined framework, but a little attitude and controlled aggression would be nice.
My hope for the Defense in 2012/2013 is simple. I hope they believe they are a top unit who can not only contain, but beat the NFL's top Offenses.

Swagger can never be understated. If you believe you believe.
 
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mayoclinic

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Swagger can never be understated. If you believe you believe.

I always got the sense that the really good defenses wanted to be on the field, especially with the game on the line. They wanted to punish the opposing offense, not just stop them. That kind of confidence is a huge asset. Feeling that your defense will inevitably give up the game winning score unless the offense can comfortably put the game out of reach is a different feeling altogether. It's time for a change.
 

RayClay

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They have a lot of talent, they're young and they have young leadership.

Camaraderie is great at this point, something to build on. Swagger? After one exhibition game? Let's leave that to the jets and Skins. It's a long season.
 

Brady_to_Moss

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I am really excited about this D. We all know the line and LBs will be better


But what i am most excited about it Gregory+Chung. If they can gel and Chung can have a year that we all have been waiting for..we will be good.

Chung has never been...like he should have been out of college..hopefully that will change this year with Gregory and no injuries
 

mayoclinic

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Camaraderie is great at this point, something to build on. Swagger? After one exhibition game? Let's leave that to the jets and Skins. It's a long season.

BB will never let the players get swollen heads like the Jets. But a little confidence isn't out of place. I always felt that the SB defenses of 2003-2004 had a little bit of swagger to them, and wanted to be out there with the game on the line. They could walk the walk. This group clearly needs to prove itself, but I get the sense that they are gaining confidence, and that's probably a good thing. BB won't let it turn into over-confidence.
 

ausbacker

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I always got the sense that the really good defenses wanted to be on the field, especially with the game on the line. They wanted to punish the opposing offense, not just stop them. That kind of confidence is a huge asset. Feeling that your defense will inevitably give up the game winning score unless the offense can comfortably put the game out of reach is a different feeling altogether. It's time for a change.
I tend to agree mayo. The feel around the Patriots has been "it's OK, we've got a top offense; they'll get us out of this". It's the complimentary feel of the defense in recent years that gripes me. I understand the speed at which BB has re-built/re-tooled the D, but it's time for them to go from a complimentary unit to an outright force on their own.
 
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slash83

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Defense wins championships... Time to knock some heads off, starting with CJ in week one baby!
 

Joker

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watching this replay, I'm struck by the play of Jake Bequette...I read your post and then looked back into the game and he just seems to show up...if his play has picked up like today's observations suggest, I would think they'd want to get him on the field in sub packages right from the start of the season...
 

mayoclinic

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watching this replay, I'm struck by the play of Jake Bequette...I read your post and then looked back into the game and he just seems to show up...if his play has picked up like today's observations suggest, I would think they'd want to get him on the field in sub packages right from the start of the season...

My hope has been that Bequette (6'4 1/2", 275#+) and Fanene (6'4", 290#+) between them could be used very effectively - Fanene playing LDE in the "base" and moving inside, with Bequette taking over as LDE on sub packages, and moving inside on NASCAR packages. All reports were that Fanene was a load to handle from a quickness/size/strength perspective before getting hurt. The impression I get is that it's nothing serious, but that the team doesn't want to rush him back and risk further injury. If Bequette can develop quickly, those 2 guys combined with Jones and quicker options like Ninkovich or Cunningham would give the Pats tremendous depth and versatility at the end positions.
 

Salva135

Rotational Player and Threatening Starter's Job
I've always believed in this D-line, and think it can only get better. If the secondary is anything better than what we saw last year, than I'm ready to say :rocker:

It's very funny that the Jets are worrying about their offense in the very same way we are worrying about the D... "Let's be average!"
 
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Joey007

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Man if we can get productive careers from Jones, Hightower, Wilson, and Bequette it could benefit our defense for years.
 

Patriot Missile

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I believe in this defense and I don't care if it's preseason. There is just too many positives coming from all over the defense to think otherwise. Im not declaring 85 bears or 04 Patriots here. Just a vastly impoved unit than the one we've seen the last 4 years.

All the parts just seem to fit whether it was through the draft or free agency. BB seems to have found the midas touch again.
 

reflexblue

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While all of this sound very very encouraging i want to wait and see. The O-line is missing three key starters, and i want to see how the O-line handles the Defensive front. IMO a lot or most of the problems the offense is having is because of poor O-line play. Brady doesn't have time to pass, wholes aren't opening up for the run, at least it sounds that way. I didn't see a lick of the saints game, not even highlights, and the camp reports don't seem to be as frequent as in the past. In the past there use to be multiple postes at the practices. Maybe its me, but i'm not seeing as many as in past years. This thread is a bonanza, Myo's opening was the most ive read about practice in one day since camp started.

BTW i'm a defense first guy, so i hope what is happening in practice is for real. And not because they're playing against a banged up O-line. If the D IS that good, well SB here we come. Because Brady and the offense won't have to shoulder the load.
 
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RayClay

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BB will never let the players get swollen heads like the Jets. But a little confidence isn't out of place. I always felt that the SB defenses of 2003-2004 had a little bit of swagger to them, and wanted to be out there with the game on the line. They could walk the walk. This group clearly needs to prove itself, but I get the sense that they are gaining confidence, and that's probably a good thing. BB won't let it turn into over-confidence.

Confidence builds also. The 2003-4 defenses were built around players that went to the Super Bowl in 1997.

I'm excited, but let's get some notches on the belt before we go overboard. Lot's of swagger about our beef flaps D last year, but the quiet Andre Carter's "we're improving" was the real deal. Let's see this defense work together awhile when it counts.

We've got plenty of talent, but the proof is in the playing. We're going to have frustrating moments with this many young, or new players too so let's not get too high or low, eh?
 
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