Sometimes, the best coverage is a fierce pass rush.
With the departure of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard, analysts, fans and pundits predicted a step back from the Patriots defense. If their defensive front plays the way it did on Sunday against the Bills, those departures will not define the 2015 Patriots, but a fierce pass rush could.
The dominant performance by the defensive front comes as a bit of a surprise. Headed into the game, the prevailing theory was that the Patriots would sacrifice the pass rush to keep Taylor in the pocket. Yes, a pass rush can be helpful in disrupting the pocket and the timing of the quarterback, but it can also be detrimental if the quarterback can run like Taylor.
"You just have to play smart," said defensive end Rob Ninkovich earlier in the week. "I'd say as a defensive lineman, your instincts are to chase the ball, get after the football. But you almost have to not completely lose your mind and stay under control."
Sure enough, Taylor was able to create some yards with his legs—43 of them on five carries, to be exact—but 23 of those rush yards were on the Bills' first offensive play of the game. That means the Patriots held Taylor to 20 rushing yards in 3.9 quarters of play while also generating a solid, consistent pass rush.
Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
The breakout performance from the Patriots defensive front is even more newsworthy after a lackluster showing against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1. The Patriots notched just three sacks of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the pass rush took a lot of criticism for a lack of pressure after the game.
Against an athletic, mobile quarterback like Taylor, the pass rush was expected to be even more tempered this week. The game plan was expected to be centered around containing T-Mobile and limiting his operating space.
|Patriots defenders with sacks|
"We've seen it before in the past," Ninkovich said. "You have to do a really good job of not letting them extend plays, push the ball down the field or run for the first down, which you see often when undisciplined defensive lines maybe run up the field too many times, and the quarterback can step up."
The Patriots did, indeed, limit his space. They just did it in a different way than anyone expected.
Under Bill Belichick, the most sacks the Patriots defense has logged in a season is 48. If they keep up this pace, they would finish the season with 88 sacks. Clearly, this is not a pace that they can keep up. The Patriots haven't logged this many sacks in a game in 12 years, so we can't expect them to log that many sacks over the remaining 14 games of the season.
That being said, the Patriots defense needs its front seven to step up in order for the defense to avoid taking a step back without its talented defensive backs. This week was a good indication that they are capable of creating the kind of consistent pressure they'll need in order to win.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first hand.