New England Patriots Lack of Consistent Pass Rush Is a Glaring Weakness

Mark Reynolds@@markreynolds33Correspondent IINovember 15, 2012

Former New England Patriots head coach Bill Parcells, the longtime former boss of current head coach Bill Belichick, delivered some telling comments about the current Patriots roster on Monday.

Parcells noted that the lack of a consistent pass rush was an issue for this year's team, though he did opine that the current team is more talented overall than the 2011 version (h/t Christopher Price,

Parcells said in the article linked to above:

“I think you can talk about the pass defense, but at the same time, you need to also talk about the pass rush. I know Bill addressed that this past season with the addition of a few guys like Chandler Jones, but I think they could use another guy coming off that edge. They could use another pressure player off the corner."

Pro Football Focus released some statistics on individual pass-rushers on Wednesday. According to their numbers, Patriots defensive ends Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich rank among the 20 worst pass-rushers at their position, and Jones has fallen out of the top 20 after a hot start to his rookie season. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork also ranks among the bottom 20 in pass rushing for interior linemen.

Cunningham has provided more production in recent weeks. Wilfork is the Patriots' highest paid and most talented defender, but his strength is in stuffing the run, not rushing the passer. Jones has had an excellent rookie season, but he appears to have hit the rookie wall in recent weeks.

The other defensive linemen—Kyle Love, Jake Bequette, Trevor Scott, Justin Francis, Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace—have not provided much production in their limited pass-rushing opportunities.

Defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene was signed to boost the interior pass rush this offseason, but he was released due to injury before ever suiting up for the Patriots.

As a team, the Patriots have only sacked the opposing quarterback on 5.41 percent of dropbacks, the 24th-worst rate in the league. Led by departed defensive ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson, the Patriots were a full percentage point better last season.

Carter just returned to action with the Oakland Raiders after suffering a severe leg injury at the end of last season, and Anderson is out for the rest of this season after suffering an injury with the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots received excellent production from both players last season on cheap one-year contracts, and were wise to have turned the page by drafting Jones.

The Patriots' scheme has also been very vanilla. They don't blitz very often, which is sensible given their struggles in the secondary. An extra pass-rusher is one less man in coverage, and that's a gamble the Patriots cannot afford to take very often.

On the other hand, the Patriots could do a better job of disguising which four pass-rushers are coming. For the most part, the Patriots just send the four down linemen at the quarterback rather than dropping a defensive end into coverage and sending a linebacker to rush the passer.

Parcells opinion that the Patriots could use another pass-rusher opposite Jones is spot on. Unfortunately, the trading deadline has passed, so the Patriots will have to improve the pass rush by getting more production from Ninkovich, Cunningham and the rest of their current roster.

They can also improve the pass rush by using more exotic schemes to disguise who is coming after the quarterback.

The Patriots secondary has had its problems this season, allowing the most passing plays of 20 yards or more and the 29th-most yards allowed per pass play. However, passing defense isn't just about coverage, it's also about getting to the quarterback quickly.

So far this season, the Patriots aren't doing a good enough job of protecting the back end of the defense with a consistent pass rush.