What happens in preseason games doesn’t matter.
That’s garbage. Try telling that to a head coach after a piss-poor performance by his team as his hair goes gray during the post game press conference.
The primary goal of the preseason is to evaluate players. But as valuable as individual performances are, how well eleven individuals play as a team is paramount. If a unit isn’t getting the job done, it shoots a large red flag up the flagpole.
After two preseason games the run defense by the first unit had room for improvement. Add the ineffectiveness from the next two preseason games and there is a reason for concern.
New England allowed almost 500 yards in four preseason games. The average yards per carry was an acceptable 3.9, but allowing 123.5 yards per game ranked 28th in the preseason and would had ranked 22nd in the league in 2009.
Of the eleven teams that would had been ranked after New England last year, only Indianapolis was a playoff team. Six teams that finished last in their divisions would rank below the Pats. This is not the kind of run defense the Patriots want to bring to the 2010 season.
After the final cuts, New England’s defensive line depth chart includes two rookies and two second year players as part of the seven-man rotation. It doesn’t completely offset the 23 years of experience between NT Vince Wilfork and DEs Mike Wright and Gerard Warren, but at times the unit will show its age. They will miss DE Ty Warren, who is on injured reserve with a torn labrum in his hip.
The first unit looked like they missed Warren in the preseason. They gave up at least 50 yards on the ground by halftime in the first three games. And when they traveled to New Meadowlands Stadium, the New York Giants gained 41 yards on just five carries when the first teams were on the field for the first two series.
It was the beginning of a 160-yard steamrolling at a five yard clip for the Giants.
New England can’t afford to have a below average run defense. Playing in the AFC East, they face 2009’s best run offense in the New York Jets, have to wrangle Miami’s Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and control Buffalo’s triple threat of Fred Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, and the explosive rookie C.J. Spiller. The Patriots will have their work cut out for them for those six games.
There are some daunting challenges outside of the division as well. They kick off the season with Cincinnati and Cedric Benson. The Pittsburgh Steelers want to run more with Rashard Mendenhall. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is arguably the best running back in the league. And the footprints left behind from Baltimore’s 234-yard Wild Card trampling are still fresh on the players’ chest.
It isn’t about the numbers given up in the preseason. It’s when the linemen aren’t occupying blockers, or the linebackers are unable to get off blocks to make tackles, or when the edge isn’t set on outside runs, or a lack of penetration that allows the running back to bounce runs outside. When the execution isn’t what it should be, that’s what matters in the preseason.