We heard all the names, from Stevan Ridley to Brian Hoyer to Taylor Price, all the way to Buddy Farnham's unlikely defensive contribution with his interception in the fourth quarter. One name that was surprisingly left out of the conversation was defensive end Mark Anderson.
Although Anderson has struggled since a breakout 12-sack rookie campaign in 2006, he had some bright spots in the preseason game, as he helped the Patriots in an area they severely needed improvement: edge pressure.
As a team, the Patriots outside linebackers generated just 12.5 sacks in 2010. Anderson didn't generate a single sack on Thursday night, but it was hard to ignore No. 95 flying off the edge, using a variety of moves to beat offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Guy Whimper.
His pressure helped Landon Cohen land a sack by forcing rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert to step up in the pocket to avoid the edge pressure.
He used a combination of speed and strength to beat anyone who lined up in front of him, with a variety of moves ranging from a bull rush to a swim move to a nifty spin as graceful as a ballerina, though with at least 100 pounds more force.
Quite simply, the Patriots have put Anderson in a position to maximize his talents of getting after the quarterback. He excelled in that role as a rookie, but his production has dipped as of late. Regardless of whether the Patriots run a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, Anderson will be allowed to do as Andre Carter will do, which is to just "put [his] hand in the dirt and go."
Bill Belichick said as much in a press conference after the game, where, according to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, he said, "[Anderson has] flashed some good pass rushes through the course of camp in one-on-ones and in our team work, and then again [Thursday] night...He's an experienced player who's rushed against a lot of good players in this league, so he has a good set of moves and skill to attack them with."
He'll be able to use those skills to his advantage, too. The Patriots were in the sub package 57 percent of their defensive downs in 2010, so clearly they employ a four-man front frequently enough to justify bringing Anderson into the fold.
Primarily, the Patriots hope that he will improve their third-down defense, which allowed a league-worst 47.14 percent conversion rate. Anderson's pressure provided a necessary nudge in the right direction, as he provided key pressure on four third downs (third-and-14, third-and-6, third-and-3 and third-and-4 in no particular order).
Sure, the Patriots have taken measures to improve their interior pressure by signing Shaun Ellis and trading for headache and possible headcase Albert Haynesworth. The fact that Anderson will be allowed to do what he does best only bodes well for the Patriots pass rush potency in 2011.
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