Patriots defense has chance to be something special this season

Ryan Hannable
August 15, 2019 - 8:03 am

NASHVILLE — Each step of the way this summer, the Patriots defense has answered the call.

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It clearly was the superior unit over the first week of practices at Gillette Stadium against the offense. One of the highlights was stopping Tom Brady and Co. on three straight plays from the two-yard line in one session. 

Part of the dominance obviously was Julian Edelman’s absence, but still the group looked very good.

“We’ve got a very good defense this year. Those guys are challenging us on every day,” Brady said during the first week of training camp. “It’s hard to complete passes on our secondary. I mean, that’s just the reality.”

The unit continued its strong play last week in Detroit in the joint sessions with the  Lions and carried it over to the game when it finished with nine sacks in the 31-3 rout.

Sure, the Lions aren’t all that great and looked lifeless in the game, but the unit was outstanding in the game, especially when the backups were doing the majority of the damage with the starters resting.

And this week in Nashville against the Titans, it looks like it picked up right where it left off.

Wednesday was a rough morning for the Titans offense with quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill struggling to find open receivers. Second-year cornerback J.C. Jackson had the highlight play with a pick-six of Tannehill on a short out route. One reporter even caught Jackson giving Bill Belichick a high-five afterwards.

The front-seven got involved too, as it looked like Chase Winovich and then Dont’a Hightower and Michael Bennett would have had sacks (we say would have since the defenders cannot touch the quarterback).

While there have been flaws in the opponent, each step of the way, the Patriots defense has thoroughly dominated. If this continues and the play rises to its competition, there’s no question the unit has the ability to be one of the best in the entire NFL.

Duron Harmon, who has been in the Patriots system for seven seasons, seems to recognize the potential, especially with the pressure front-seven is putting on quarterbacks.

"Any time you see the defensive line getting after the quarterback, I mean we talk about nine sacks, but how many times was there pressure in the quarterbacks face forcing hurried throws and stuff like that? That are really exciting for us because when you get pressure like that it leads to turnovers in the back end," Harmon said earlier this week on Dale & Keefe.

And he’s right. 

The Patriots secondary is already no question one of the best in the NFL. It is led by one of, if not the best cornerback in football in Stephon Gilmore and then has tremendous depth including Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones. Safety is also extremely deep with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Harmon. This isn’t even including young talent with versatility like Joejuan Williams and Duke Dawson.

This part of the defense was what was truly known, and the front seven was the real question mark and what it has shown so far has been it won’t be a problem at all.

The addition of Jamie Collins will give the group a big spark, especially considering he is playing for his next contract. And then Winovich, a rookie, has looked solid. As has Derek Rivers, who is in a make-or-break summer. 

New England’s defense has the perfect blend of veterans and youth, as well as players who have been in the system for years and others who are just learning. 

The window to be a great unit may not for long, but this group certainly has the ability to take advantage this season.

Related: Danny Etling reportedly has found a new team