The Patriots are on their early bye week this Sunday and the team will enjoy some down time before returning next week in preparations for away games at Dallas and Indianapolis.
Yesterday we took a look at where the offense lies at this early juncture and today we’ll take a look at the defense. It is playing with Fool’s Gold to make any sweeping projections on the defense based on this small sample of work. One of the hallmarks of a Bill Belichick team is that continue to add to the defense as the year progresses and that they get better as the year goes on.
So we’ll break down the positions and see where they’re set or need some help.
Sheard , Rookies Provide Depth at Defensive end: Back in the spring, we wrote that the signing of Jabaal Sheard was going to be one of the more underrated ones of the year. For the past two years DEs Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were forced to play far too many snaps and rarely if ever came off the field. That has changed.
Sheard now is a regular rotational piece and it will keep everyone much fresher, which means at the end of games and the season, the wear and tear will be greatly reduced on all of the players. This was in evidence on Sunday in the blowout win over Jacksonville, Sheard led all DEs in snaps.
Rookies Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers as well as Rufus Johnson will all see some action as the team gets them some experience. This position went from one very thin to one of the deeper units on the team this offseason.
Interior DL Coming Together: The team has opted to keep four interior DL with rookie first round draft pick Malcom Brown, Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley and Alan Branch. Occasionally they’ll slide one of the ends inside when trying to project a speed rushing NASCAR package.
The coaches are still tinkering with different combinations but with Easley back from a hip injury suffered in the opener, the unit is blending together nicely. Branch and Siliga are the big men who are dedicated run stuffers while Brown and Easley are the penetrators, the quicker guys who can shoot gaps, disrupt plays in the backfield.
They were gashed on the run a bit in the first two weeks but some of that was scheme related; this week they were much better holding the Jaguars to 2.8 yards per carry. One area that they can still improve upon is the pass rush and the pushing of the interior of the pocket for opposing quarterbacks.
But the unit has a nice blend of youth and experience and barring injury should be set.
Bostic, adds depth to Linebacker Core: The Patriots just completed a trade with the Chicago Bears adding linebacker Jon Bostic and trading a 6th round pick in the process. Bostic was a second round pick of the Bears selected just prior to Jamie Collins and is a downhill, run stuffing Mike linebacker. It should be noted at the NFL Combine he performed well in the 40-yard dash (4.61) and had a nice time in the Three Cone Drill (6.99), something the team covets.
But the strength of the Patriots linebackers rests with their two main pieces Dont’a Hightower and Collins. Playing a lot of sub-packages, the defense relies on an abundance of two linebacker sets and Collins and Hightower have been outstanding in their roles. Collins in particular in the early going is becoming one of the better linebackers in the league.
Veteran Jerod Mayo is coming off of two seasons in a row cut short due to serious injuries. He’s played mainly in the base look and goal line and it still isn’t known whether they’re just easing him back in they feel he’s lost a step. Dekoda Watson mainly a STs presence, rounds out the linebacking core.
Bostic should provide immediate help with the depth and will probably see plenty of work on STs as well.
McCourty Heads Solid Group of Safeties: The Patriots are deep and talented at safety and Captain Devin McCourty heads the group with an All-Pro presence in centerfield. The Patriots recognized his leadership and value and rewarded him with a big contract extension this season. His play has been stellar thus far as the quarterback for the secondary.
The Patriots constantly shuffle personnel with Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner and newcomer Jordan Richards all getting some work in. Richards got some extended reps this past Sunday against Jacksonville and looked good in a small sample size.
Team still has questions at corner after Butler: With the large turnover at cornerback this offseason, a lot of pressure was placed on the shoulders of 2nd year player Malcolm Butler. Butler has played well and is a very competitive guy on the field. While he’s given up touchdowns in each game, the passes in each went right thru his hands. It is only a matter of time before those completions start to turn into interceptions.
At the right corner Tarrell Brown did start the first two games but on Sunday, he dressed but sat and Logan Ryan got the start. It is believed that it was a precautionary take on the part of the coaches. Brown seems to have the right side as his own with Ryan as the nickel corner but that will deem watching as they move forward.
Bradley Fletcher was a healthy scratch Sunday and he’s struggled badly the first two games, especially in Buffalo. This gave newcomer Justin Coleman the chance to show what he can do against Jacksonville and he responded with a pretty decent performance. It will be interesting to see if the team opts to use Coleman more as the season progresses and they either sit or release Fletcher.
The biggest question remains, is this unit capable of making the big stops on third down in big games? This is one area that the team could still use an influx of talent. Don’t be shocked if the Pats try to work a deal before the deadline of November 3rd and bring in a veteran corner.
The defense hasn’t been great the first three weeks of the season, but Belichick’s defenses rarely are. It usually entails the team adding pieces bit by bit and evolving as the season progresses. Like we mentioned above, trying to put a stamp on things, good bad or indifferent after less than 20 percent of the games is folly.
But the unit has a nice blend of youth and experience, with an added piece here or there…this could be a very nice complement to the Patriots offense down the stretch.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Chandler Jones Devin McCourty Duron Harmon Geneo Grissom Jabaal Sheard Jacksonville Jaguars Jordan Richards Malcolm Butler Malcom Brown Nate Ebner New England Patriots NFL Pat Chung Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Sealver Siliga Tavon Wilson Tom Brady Tre' Jackson Trey Flowers