5 Potential Wrinkles in Bill Belichick's New England Patriots Defense
Looking through the stats from last season, the Patriots look pretty good on defense—until you come to these two figures: 366.5 and 47. The first one is the amount of yards the defense gave up per game, a number good for 25th in the league. Behind the Buffalo Bills. Ouch.
The second one is the percentage at which teams converted on third downs against our defense. That number is good for dead-last in the NFL, and no one else is even close. When teams lined up against the Pats last season on third down, they converted nearly 50 percent of the plays for first downs. Horrifying.
But things are changing around here.
Haynesworth has been brought in via trade, and Leigh Bodden is back at the cornerback position after missing last season due to shoulder surgery. Mike Wright, the unheralded pass rusher who recorded six sacks in just 10 games for New England in 2010, is back. He is ready to go after a concussion left him on the sidelines for the whole second part of last season.
There are still moves to be made, especially with the releases of Marcus Stroud, Ty Warren and Tully Banta-Cain. Guys like Matt Roth, Lofa Tatupu and even Osi Umenyiora have been linked to New England in the past few days (check out Profootballtalk.com).
Fear not, New England Patriots fans. Defensive guru Bill Belichick will be able to add five wrinkles to what has been a very predictable defense in the past.
5. Jerod Mayo Playing Outside Linebacker
Jerod Mayo at outside linebacker.
It seems stupid to say. Crazy, even. But the NFL's leading tackler in 2010 could very well see some time on the outside in 2011.
Your typical middle linebacker, Mayo has been one of the few (mostly) consistent bright spots since his rookie season in 2008. A tackling machine, Mayo had nine games with 10-plus tackles in 2010, and four of those nine went for 15-plus. He can flat out play. His sideline-to-sideline speed allows him to line up in any situation, a factor which led to him playing almost every single possible snap last season.
But his supernatural ability is not the reason why he is going to play some outside linebacker this season.
The problem is that Brandon Spikes, who had a promising rookie season last year, is exclusively a middle linebacker. He doesn't have the same athleticism as Mayo, and he is below-average in pass coverage. He can, however, stop the run. Well.
So, when the time comes for the Patriots to want Spikes on the field (assume first downs, second downs and 3rd-and-shorts) and they decide to go with the new-look 4-3 alignment up front, expect to see Jerod playing the unfamiliar outside linebacker position.
I'll tell you one thing for certain: Mayo will not be sitting on the bench.
4. Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth Lining Up over Center
I know, not the most creative thing in the world, but there is just so much potential here.
Lining up Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth next to each other is one of Belichick's most ingenious ideas yet.
Not surprisingly, I think that this duo has the chance to be the most disruptive inside force in all of football. Wilfork is a pro at taking two to three defenders at a time to clog up the running lanes. Haynesworth has mastered the art of the interior pass rush. Together, they will form somewhat of a new-era defensive line.
Wilfork is generously listed at 325 lbs; Let's just say he's 340. Haynesworth is generously listed at 335 lbs; let's just say he's 350.
Combined, their 685 lbs will not only be able to stifle running games, but will also be able to put the fear of God into any quarterback lined up under center. Can you imagine lining up with those two across from you? Lord, have mercy.
With Ty Warren and Marcus Stroud being released, it seems evident that Belichick is leaning towards a 4-3 based defense.
That means that Wilfork and Haynesworth are going to be coming at you all day.
I have two words for you: Good luck.
3. An Exotic Blitz Package Featuring Brandon Meriweather
Even though this one is listed at No. 3, it might be my favorite of the bunch.
Back in the 2008 season, Brandon Meriweather had two sacks. Looking at his career stats, you will notice that those are the only sacks he has had. But, not only were they sacks, Meriweather actually managed to cause a fumble on each play.
You are telling me that his two career sacks have both led to turnovers, but that he shouldn't be blitzing?
Well, the truth is, the New England Patriots haven't really had much of a choice lately. With a bunch of awful No. 2 cornerbacks, Meriweather has been needed in pass coverage. It has paid off, as he has 12 picks in the last three years. On the other hand, he could add a dynamic new dimension to the defense.
With a more solidified secondary, thanks to Leigh Bodden's return, Meriweather should be able to play with a little more freedom this season. Also, the Pats re-signed Brandon McGowan.
Along with James Sanders and Patrick Chung, New England has a pretty formidable quartet at safety.
Bill Belichick should make it a priority this preseason to get BM31 into the box and attacking the quarterback. He's shown he can do it before, there's no reason to think he can't do it again.
2. A One-Safety Formation with Patrick Chung Playing in the Box
To me, Patrick Chung is the most underrated player on the New England Patriots' defense.
He took a gigantic step forward last season, becoming one of the keys to the D. He has tremendous explosion and will make plays all over the field.
Chung is really becoming that Troy Polamalu-type presence for New England. Obviously, he is not nearly on the level of Polamalu. But the fact that he is a factor in the run and pass games, while simultaneously making big plays, reminds me a lot of No. 43.
This season we should see Chung progress even further. There is no reason to doubt, if he avoids injury, Pat's ability to record 100 tackles, five interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble. That is not so much of a reach from last year, considering he basically had 100 tackles in only 14 games.
The way to best utilize Chung is to get him in the middle of the field. Get him where he can literally make a play on anyone on the offense.
Have Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden play back, while Brandon Meriweather monitors the deep middle. That way, you don't risk giving up the big play. In the meantime, Chung will be launching himself at helpless running backs coming through the gaps, and destroying receivers who dare come over the middle.
Check this out if you don't think he has the skills.
1. The Long Lost Bring the House Blitz
With all of the New England Patriots' moves this offseason, getting back cornerback Leigh Bodden may have been the most important.
Now, Patriots fans can finally remember what it's like to watch a real Bill Belichick defense in action.
I have a hard time remembering the last time the Pats had a secondary as talented as the one they boast this season. I think it was 2004 with Ty Law and Rodney Harrison. Either way, it has been awhile since Belichick has really been able to open up the playbook.
Think about the New York Jets for a moment.
For all of the flak we give head coach Rex Ryan, he is a defensive mastermind. His blitz packages are second to none in the NFL right now. But the reason he is so successful is because he has the personnel to pull it off.
Finally, Belichick will have the same.
Devin McCourty is pretty damn close to a shutdown corner and Leigh Bodden is a sturdy enough No. 2 that New England will finally be able to unleash those blitz packages that used to keep Peyton Manning up at night.
You all know what I'm talking about.
The defensive line stands up and walks around, the linebackers jump up and down and everybody is screaming. The quarterback? He has no clue what happens next.
I'll ruin the ending. It's called a sack. Patriots fans haven't heard that word in awhile, but with all of the additions this offseason, Belichick will finally be able to unleash the full power of the hoodie.
And the Patriots? They will once again be able to put pressure on the quarterback.
Let me know what you think in the comment section below. Do you have any ideas? Let me know, I'm a fan too!
Thanks for reading!