The bad news is the 2012 New England Patriots defense could be worse. The good news is they can’t get much worse.
Last year the Patriots defense was ranked 31st overall (31st against the pass, 17th against the run). In hopes of correcting the problems, New England spent their first six selections in the 2012 NFL Draft on defenders. They also picked up key free agents like DT Jonathan Fanene, Steve Gregory and DE/OLB Trevor Scott.
The man responsible for bringing the players together and turning the defense around is Matt Patricia, who was promoted from safeties coach to defensive coordinator in the off-season.
It’s a dubious promotion for a coach that has called the defensive plays for the last two years. With Patricia calling the plays in 2010, the defense ranked 25th overall.
Yet despite the embarrassing yards allowed, New England’s defense had some of the stickiest fingers in league for the last two years.
In 2010 they led the NFL with 25 interceptions, led by first round draft pick CB Devin McCourty’s seven picks. Last year the Patriots had 23 interceptions, second in the NFL. The team leader that time was Kyle Arrington with seven.
In the most important category, points allowed, New England was ranked eighth in 2010 and 15th in 2011. There’s more than one way to play good defense.
Patricia began his coaching career in 1996 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as a graduate assistant offensive line coach after four years as a center/guard for the Engineers. He moved on to Amherst College, coaching the defensive line from 1999-00. That was followed by three years at Syracuse University as a video graduate assistant.
Under the guidance of head coach Bill Belichick, Patricia gained experience as a coaching assistant in 2004, to offensive assistant (2005), linebackers coach (2006-10) and safeties coach (2011).
The results have been mixed while Patricia has called the plays, but he has a knack for getting the best out of individuals. He did it time and time again with the linebackers.
Mike Vrabel had an All-Pro season in 2007 after racking up 12.5 sacks. Tully Banta-Cain had 10 sacks, easily a career best, in 2009. Jerod Mayo earned Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008 with 126 combined tackles. He raised his game in 2010 to All-Pro level with 175 total tackles, five passes defended and two sacks.
There are several players that could have breakout seasons on the Patriots defense. But the goal is to make the defense successful. Patricia has arguably the most talented defenders in years with depth at every position. Only a rash of injuries should hold the Patriots back.
There’s no excuse for a Patricia-led defense to finish ranked in the 30’s in 2012. New England reached Super Bowl XLVI with the 31st-ranked defense. Where would the Patriots finish if the defense was decent? Patricia has to find the answers.
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