We’re going to break down and rank each positional group of the New England Patriots defense each week, in order to always make it easy for you to ingest what’s going on currently with the New England Patriots defensive unit.
The Elephant In The Room
We’re all feeling a bit of uncertainty this week, following one of the most devastating and impactful Patriots injuries we’ve seen since Drew Bledsoe went down in 2001. It didn’t look great obviously, with our envisioned future face of the franchise hobbling to the sideline in tremendous pain. For now, it seems as though it might not be as bad as it had looked. After the initial x-rays were negative on Sunday analysts are theorizing that it’s probably a high ankle sprain, and Mac will probably miss 4-6 weeks recovering. God, I hope that’s the case, that’s not so bad really. Brian Hoyer is a serviceable backup and the type of guy who may be chomping at the bit to get some actual playing time this late in his journeyman career. Hopefully, he can go 3-3 or so and keep us in contention while Mac Jones heals up. All is not lost yet Patriots nation! Stay optimistic if you can, this season is far from over.
Patriots Vs. Ravens
What a great game. Despite the obvious horrific ending, this was a well-played game of football by everybody on both teams and probably could’ve been considered a classic had the game ended on a more positive note. The Patriots and Ravens clashed for the 16th time in NFL history, and the Ravens came away with what was likely a sweet victory for them, as it was their first win ever while visiting Gillette Stadium where they now hold a record of 1-5.
It started to downpour sometime towards the start of the 4th quarter, which was ominous in a way after Lamar Jackson had cited the rain as a contributing factor during his last loss at Gillette. Unfortunately, the rain was a little too late to the party and didn’t seem to make much of a difference during the final stretch of gameplay.
Overall the Patriots’ defense played a solid game, and certain Patriots players looked like absolute studs, while a few seemingly appeared as though their days on the active roster could be limited based on continually poor performance over the last three weeks. A lot of players did step up and I loved what I saw out of Deatrich Wise Jr, Matt Judon, and Johnathan Jones in particular. The effort of those three players combined could’ve easily been the deciding factor in what was mostly a close game. Though the Ravens still put up a lot of points, their yardage was fairly low considering, and the true determining factor for the loss was probably closer related to the Patriots having a number of untimely turnovers whilst on offense.
The Patriots’ defense has been improving in a number of promising ways over the first three weeks of this NFL season, and if they keep playing well and improving however they can, they seem to be the type of unit that could step up and provide game-winning plays and keep the team competitive during the span of Mac Jones’ recovery. Now, let’s get to the fun stuff.
New England Patriots Linebackers:
Grade: B- (Last Weeks Grade: B+)
Roster: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Matthew Judon, Mack Wilson Sr., Josh Uche, Jahlani Tavai, Anfernee Jennings, Harvey Langi.
Changes to the roster from last week:
(+) Harvey Langi (elevated from practice squad)
(-) Raekwon McMillan (inactive)
Best Of The Bunch:
Matthew Judon (One Tackle, One Sack, One QB Hit)
This was an under-the-radar revenge game for Judon, in a game where he didn’t put up a spectacular stat line perhaps, but seemed to be everywhere on defense doing what he could to disrupt the play, oftentimes barely missing an opportunity for a big sack or TFL.
He made himself noticed immediately, providing pressure on Lamar Jackson on the very first play of the game. I was joking to myself earlier in the week that Judon probably wouldn’t be chasing down Jackson like he had Trubisky the week prior. But towards the beginning of the game when Judon still had a full tank, he looked just as fast as Jackson and even managed to chase him down to the outside to prevent an early first down. Judon showed very impressive speed in matching stride with Lamar, and with speed having been a big focus for the strategy of building this current Patriots defensive unit, we obviously love to see that kind of effort and ability showcased whenever possible.
The Patriots forced a three and out on the Ravens’ first drive, and after letting up an uncharacteristically high amount of first drive scores in the past couple of years, Belichick and the fans should be thrilled any time we manage to accomplish such a feat. Especially against a team as proficient as the Baltimore Ravens. It was a great start to the game, and hopefully, we’ll see more of the same as the season continues.
On the next Ravens drive, Judon was close to sacking Jackson on basically every single play. He provided the most pressure that I’ve seen from a Patriots LB since… probably ever actually. His signature red arms were mere inches or less from dragging down Lamar on multiple plays, and eventually a few players later, Deatrich Wise Jr. was able to take advantage of the pressure Judon and the Patriots had been providing, and brought Lamar down for the first sack of the night.
From this point on, Judon seemed to struggle a little bit. It seemed fairly obvious he had used up too much gas too early on trying to keep pace with Jackson, and as a result, he wasn’t up to his usual playmaking standards during the second half of this game. He was however a perfect example of a vocal team leader type and was seen on the sidelines after a second Wise Jr. sack, encouraging his teammate in Wise showing enthusiasm and providing much-needed vocal support to his co-captain, while building rapport with his guys in the best way possible.
He did also get blown up on a fantastic block by Ravens DL to FB convert Patrick Laird, which resulted in one of the biggest runs of the night by the Ravens RBs, but it’s not super concerning given how it was a one-time stunt play that Judon probably could’ve easily adjusted to had it been attempted a second time.
It wasn’t the best game of his career or anything, but he left it all on the table, and despite a meager-looking stat line, was a key part of the defense yet again, constantly providing encouragement and exuberance wherever it was needed. Judon is quite possibly on his way to becoming one of the all-time great Patriots linebackers and I’m sure you’re with me when I say: I can’t wait to see what else he can do this season.
Needs To Step It Up:
Jahlani Tavai (One Tackle)
The linebackers were fine for the most part, and Tavai did record a tackle in the game. After last week, however, many fans and likely coaches as well were probably expecting Tavai to play a more significant part of the defense, hoping he’d make the most of his playing time opportunities this week and in weeks beyond. He didn’t manage to do much this week, but to his benefit of the doubt, neither did the rest of the linebackers.
All the linebackers played a solid game though, and there were only a couple of big plays that could’ve been considered their fault, mainly a few key important completions over the middle to Mark Andrews. It seemed like nobody really had an answer for the big TE in coverage, and that’s not as bad as it seems because Mark Andrews is arguably a top-5 tight end in this league, any year he’s healthy. He’s a problem for anyone basically.
New England Patriots Defensive Backs:
Grade: C (Last Weeks Grade: B)
Roster: Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant, Adrian Phillips, Devin McCourty, Jabrill Peppers, Cody Davis, Brenden Schooler, Joshua Bledsoe
Changes to the roster from last week:
(+) Joshua Bledsoe
(+) Marcus Jones
(-) Shaun Wade (inactive)
(-) Kyle Dugger (inactive)
Best Of The Bunch:
Jon Jones (Three Solo Tackles, Four Total Tackles, One PD, One Interception, One FF)
Jones flashed potential this week that Patriots coaches and fans everywhere have been eager and hopeful to see from him this year. We’ve all been praying that Jon Jones would be able to step up and become a big playmaker this year after the string of players we lost which would essentially force Jones into being one of the top guys this year.
He recorded the only interception of Lamar Jackson during the game, in which he had made a big adjustment in coverage, coming up 10-15 yards to make the play after perfectly recognizing Lamar’s poor throw. It felt like a big deal and was definitely a confidence booster, as nearly the entire team gathered around and joined him in celebration of the big play.
He’d use his boosted confidence well, as later he would go on to force the only other turnover by the Ravens, during a play in which he would rip the ball out of Devin Duvernay’s hands causing a fumble which was subsequently recovered by Jabril Peppers.
If the rest of the guys can pitch in and record one or two more turnovers, and the offense can manage to avoid a couple as well, this game could’ve certainly ended with a Patriots victory. Hopefully, Jon Jones can keep the heat on in the coming weeks, as the defense will likely need to play out of their minds in order to make up for the absence of Mac Jones. So far, most of our guys have proven nothing but capable, with the only real weak point on the defense to speak of being:
Needs To Step It Up:
Myles Bryant (One Tackle, One Fumble)
I’m sure most of you saw this coming. Bryant has simply not looked like a good option over the first three weeks. It’s almost a huge mystery as to why he’s still receiving playing time at this point. He had a good tackle at least, but for the most part, was useless in coverage, and he muffed his first attempt at a punt return which he was luckily able to recover.
Regardless of him recovering the ball, he’s probably on his way to being replaced by Marcus Jones as a returner. If they don’t replace him for whatever reason this week, it’s likely he only has one more real mistake left to make before he’s back on the practice squad, possibly for good. I seriously couldn’t help but laugh when he muffed his punt, it was very on-brand for Bryant, and frankly, it’s not good when people are expecting a guy, to be a guy who makes mistakes, on any team. Hopefully, he comes out next week, proves us all wrong, and puts on a clinic… Otherwise, his days in a Patriots uniform are probably numbered.
New England Patriots Defensive Line:
Grade: B+ (Last Weeks Grade: B+)
Roster: Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Carl Davis Jr., Lawrence Guy, Damarcus Mitchell, Daniel Ekuale
Changes to the roster from last week: (none)
Best Of The Bunch:
Deatrich Wise Jr. (Five Solo Tackles, Six Total Tackles, Three Sacks, Four TFL, Three QB Hits)
Wow. What a freaking incredible stat line from Wise Jr. Wise was named a captain this year for the first time in his six-year career with the Patriots, and he’s definitely out to prove that he’s worthy of the role. Before the game on Sunday, the Patriots held a Patriots Hall-Of-Fame induction ceremony for fan favorite Patriots big man Vince Wilfork. You have to wonder if seeing a fellow Patriots defensive lineman being bestowed with such an honor was an inspiration for Deatrich during the game that came after. All signs point to that being the case, as Deatrich Wise Jr. put up an effort that might very well fetch an accolade for the best defensive performance of the week (if he doesn’t win DPOTW he got robbed).
He started off his incredible night by recording the first sack of Lamar Jackson, managing to finally reach the ever-elusive Lamar Jackson after a few plays where Judon and other various Patriots came very close. Wise was noticeably enthusiastic about the sack and celebrated by bringing the hammer down in one of my favorite celebration moves I’ve seen by a lineman in years.
Wise Jr. recorded three sacks on the day, and during the second one, you could see the fear in Lamar Jackson’s eyes, clearly not super excited that he was about to get the hammer brought down upon him by Wise yet again. Wise made Lamars night fairly difficult towards the start of the game and recorded all three of his sacks in the first half, which is also impressive considering Wise only had three sacks during the entire duration of last season.
However, during the second half of the game, Wise, much like Judon, seemed to have exerted a little too much energy too early, and as a result of such, didn’t have much of an answer on a number of Lamar Jackson running plays that went for big yardage. Then again… Who does really? Lamar Jackson has already cemented himself as the greatest dual-threat QB in NFL history. As one of the commentators mentioned “It’s Lamar Jackson, he’s going to get his plays in”, and “The only thing you can do is to get back to that line of scrimmage and try to stop him again, next time”.
My favorite part of the game perhaps was during one of Wise Jr.’s TFLs in which he angled WR Devin Duvernay out of bounds as he attempted to get to the outside. Wise showed great speed in keeping up with Duvernay, and also showed a proficient stiff-arm ability as he juggernauted into a group of about 10 people on the sidelines and somehow managed to use his arms to push each innocent bystander out of the way strategically, presumably to kindly avoid bowling them over. Almost makes me think we should give this man the ball and see what he can do.
Either way, goal-line carries or not, this is a man who will lead this defensive unit, and if he can manage to keep up this quality of play, he’ll be one of the key players responsible for what this Patriots team may be able to accomplish this year. We’ve always loved him, ever since his rookie year, but we’ve always wanted to see just a little more out of him. This week was a welcome improvement for sure, and possibly the start of another all-time great legacy in terms of Patriots defenders. Keep bringing that hammer down Deatrich.
Needs To Step It Up:
None. The big guys up front did their thing on Sunday and provided plenty of pressure throughout the majority of the game. It would’ve been nice to see them get pressure during the Patriots’ few defensive plays that involved a three-man front, but that’s generally asking a lot from any player, no matter the caliber. It was a good game overall and a solid performance to build on.
It would obviously still be nice to see Davon Godchaux more involved also, but he was serviceable at least in recording three tackles on the night.
Patriots @ Packers: Sunday, October 2nd, 2022 at 4:25 PM ET
The Patriots take on the Packers next Sunday, October 2nd, in what will be their fourth game in a row against a potential playoff contender. The Pats drew a tough schedule during this part of the year for sure, but luckily there are a few games during the upcoming middle of the season that should be a little bit easier and help this young team build up some confidence before another insanely tough slate of games to end this season. After the Packers game, and before things get truly difficult again, the Patriots will be facing off against the following teams from Week Five – Week 11: Lions, Browns, Bears, Jets, Colts, Jets, and Vikings.
Hopefully, the defense can provide the winning boost we need during those games in order to not fall out of contention during McCorkle’s absence. This week against the Packers should be a difficult game that not many people are expecting the Patriots to have a chance in hell at winning.
On the other hand, some of us have always loved Brian Hoyer and we could certainly have worse options under center going into this week. There’s always a chance that Hoyer surprises everyone with a winning effort and the defense continues to thrive and improve in a week where we’ll seek to shut down the running game and keep turnovers to a minimum on offense.
Don’t lose faith yet fellow Patriots fans. If we manage to salvage this season into a run at contention somehow, it will be all the sweeter come time for playoffs. Go Pats!
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