Monday, September 14, 2009

The Patriots Defense

The New England Patriots defense will be a top ten defense at the end of the season. You can mark it down.

I noted John Clayton's power ranking comment last week mistakenly referring to the Patriots age and I was even more shocked to hear Patriot fan Bill Simmons claim the Pats were going to be locked in 38-34 games every week this season during his first week podcast preview with Cousin Sal. Just look around and you'll see plenty of folks down on the Patriots defense this year, particularly in the wake of the Richard Seymour trade. Not having followed the Patriots intensively this off-season, this widespread distrust of the Pats defense going into the season is a bit surprising.

Personally, I've been super excited for the season to get going so I can see this defense in action and I'm still excited after the Seymour trade.

First, let's just take a look at what the Patriots did last season. Last season the Patriots finished 10th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and 8th in terms of points allowed. On the yardage front the team finished 11th against the pass and 15th against the run. And this, all while playing in closer games with Matt Cassel then they presumably will be with Brady back this year.

Obviously, there were some major changes in the off-season. Besides the Seymour trade, Ellis Hobbs was traded to the Eagles, Mike Vrabel was traded to the Chiefs and Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi retired. It seems like a lot to lose, but is it really? By the end of last season Rodney Harrison has basically ceded the starting safety positions to Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders. And by the end of last season, Tedy Bruschi just didn't have the speed to compete at the NFL level. Other than Seymour, who's still a very good player, we're talking about losing a 12 year veteran in Mike Vrabel and a cornerback in Ellis Hobbs who lost the Pats the Super Bowl and was reviled throughout Patriots nation.

When I think about who the Patriots do have, I get excited. Three players, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, and Adelius Thomas are near that Pro Bowl level and two other players- Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather- are seemingly ready to make that jump this year. Losing Seymour hurts, but the defensive line is the area where the Patriots are the most stacked. Jarvis Green and Mike Wright have played extensive minutes in their time on the Patriots and the coaching staff supposedly loves young rookie giants Ron Brace and Myron Pryor.

Linebacker depth is a concern, but linebacker depth has been a concern the past few years. At the very least, the return of former Patriot Tully Banta-Cain and the addition of former Raider pass rusher Derrick Burgess should be of some help. And then there's the secondary, which should be better from last season. The safeties return and Shaun Springs replaces Ellis Hobbs, which should be an upgrade. While there are questions as to the second corner spot and the nickle and dime packages, the Patriots have 4 players in their first or second year ready to contribute. It's not a recipe for instant success, but there's more than enough talent for this defense to coalesce into a top unit by the end of the season. These Patriots have more young talent on defense than they've ever had before in the Bill Belichick era and I can see why the haters would have doubts ... but the Pats fans? That's what I don't get. I loved Bruschi, Seymour, Harrison, and Vrabel and everything they did for the team, but the team is better this year with them not on the field.


Blogger McMc said...

I think the Pats have made a trade off on defense: They got rid of smarter, older players in exchange for younger, faster players. The Pats have a lot more physical talent on this defense but it wouldn't surprise me to see some dumb mistakes here and there. Nothing crippling, just a few things you wouldn't expect to see from a Belichick defense.

Average fans will see names like Vrabel, Harrison and Bruschi missing from the team and think the Pats are in trouble. Vrabel had the sacks but his role is very interchangeable. Harrison is always talked about as great but as you said he wasn't even going to start. Then there's Bruschi, who hasn't been good in years.

I think the big risk you run with losing the old and bringing in the young is an establishment of cohesiveness. When you have established veteran leaders, it's easier for young guys to fall in line and do their job. When you don't have the leaders, you might see a little wild play and a team that doesn't play as a unit. My big question is whether or not guys like Adalius Thomas, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, the new "old guard", are those types of leaders.

5:16 PM  

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