With the season set to kick off, the New England Patriots are only days away from going to Buffalo for their week one matchup against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots have had many questions around them on the offensive side of the ball, but they look to be solid on defense this year with the return of Aqib Talib and players like Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, who are ready to break out in their second year. Though the Patriots’ defense is young, they have played together for multiple years and look to finally put it together and become one of the better defenses in the league.
New England has struggled in the past years defensively, which has brought up many questions around Bill Belichick and his schemes. Once known for being a defensive guru, Belichick’s defenses in recent history have struggled. The league has changed in the last decade since the Patriots were on top of the world winning three out of four Super Bowls, but their defense has not been able to keep up with the passing league the NFL has become. It seems every year they give up an absurd amount of yards per game, but somehow find themselves in the middle of the pack with points allowed. This is the year that they will change that.
Now you can’t blame Belichick completely for the sub-par defense. Patriots fans were spoiled in the early 2000s with one of the best defenses the NFL had ever seen. They had one of the greatest safeties in the game in Rodney Harrison, and a star corner in Ty Law. These two veterans in the secondary allowed their great front seven to blitz at will and confuse the opposition. Now players like Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Harrison and Law don’t just come around everyday, but the Patriots finally have a core of players who could have impacts similar to those did when they were the best franchise in football.
As mentioned before, Jones and Hightower, who were both first-round picks in 2012, look to have a better sophomore season. Jones, in particular, started out strong, but was slowed by a high-ankle sprain, which caused him to be a non-factor in the second half of the season. He ended up with only six sacks and they all came before he hurt his ankle. Look for Jones to be one of the league leaders in sacks this year, and finish in the high teens. He has put on weight and looked unstoppable during the preseason.
With the Patriots front seven looking strong, and the return of Talib to the team, who had a big impact in the second half of the season when the Patriots acquired him for a fourth-round pick, the Patriots look like they will be much more creative in the blitz aspect. They seem to trust Talib in one-on-one coverage in the secondary, and Devin McCourty has improved since he was moved to safety a year ago. With confidence in their secondary, they will be more willing to send linebackers and safeties on a blitz and mix up their coverage.
This could be trouble for opposing offenses who have seen a pretty vanilla cover-two defense in the past. Look for the Patriots to be a top-10 defense this year and be a big part of a possible Super Bowl run for New England.