A year ago, no one would argue that the first round pick of the New England Patriots was a far better immediate return than the Jets first round pick Kyle Wilson. Devin McCourty nearly got the nod for Defensive Rookie of the Year, something that eventually went to one of the greatest defensive players of his draft class and someone who should have won the Heisman as a defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh.
Ras I Dowling, the 33rd overall pick of the 2011 draft, may have been the next Mccourty, but since he was put on IR, the Patriots pass defense has suffered.
So why is this year’s Patriots pass defense ranked 32nd in the league? Before getting to details, remember we are only halfway through the season. The experiment the Jets had on offense is the same one New England has had on defense. While I do not make assurances to Patriots fans on a regular basis, I will offer one for the fanatics. They will be in the top 20 by the end of the year. This is the age of reason. Beat writers unfortunately need something to write about on a daily basis, and constant praise does not sell papers.
Was there a turning point for this year’s slide against the pass? No. It started before the season began, when the once mysterious Belichick, who at one time utilized all sorts of corner blitzes, 1-5-5 formations, and various types of zone blitzes, pretty much proclaimed to the world that he was going with a 4-3 (probably to calm the nerves of Albert Haynesworth). This immediately sent a red flag to Patriots fans, as Belichick usually lets no one know anything before he does it.
So they went with the 4-3 and abandoned the 3-4. If you are going to go with a 4-3, as the Lions have done, you are going to need guys who play hard on every play and have a deep rotation of defensive tackles. Drafting a “can’t miss” top 5 defensive tackle two years in a row as the Lions have done makes things pretty easy for a defensive line coach.
A 34 year old Shaun Ellis, a 30 year old Vince Wilfork, and a 30 year old “seriously lacking in competitiveness when he has over $10,000,000 in the bank” Albert Haynesworth does not. The other glaring issue with the Patriots defensive line? Chemistry. Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter have not played double digit games together. They haven’t even played double digit games for the Patriots. The defensive line rotation is, to put it mildly, a work in progress.
The Patriots currently have 9 defensive lineman in the starting rotation. They’ve got pass rushers and they’ve got run stuffers, but if they’re going to have success as a unit, it’s going to know exactly how to rotate them depending on the opposing offense that is going to keep their secondary from becoming vulnerable against 20 yard post routes.
To compare to a friendly rival, Rex Ryan drafted two defensive players this year, one last year. It took Rex Ryan a full year to give Kyle Wilson a starting nickel job, and Kenrick Ellis won’t become the starting nose tackle until next year. If not for necessity, Muhammad Wilkerson wouldn’t be a starting defensive end. Only two of the seven lineman have not been on the team for more than a year. Most have been on the team for at least 4.
Even more than offense, defensive players need the trust of their coach. They need the same eyes their coach has, to see when a run is coming, to see when a pass is coming, to see the play action, etc. etc. The Patriots defense is already 6th against the run, the pass will catch up.