Patriots defense found new way to impress vs. Panthers

Ryan Hannable
August 23, 2019 - 2:31 am

FOXBOROUGH — It’s becoming quite clear, the 2019 Patriots defense has the chance to be something special.

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For the first time this summer, the first unit played in a live game — a 10-3 win over the Panthers in preseason game No. 3 — but the most impressive thing wasn’t even allowing two first downs and 29 total yards in the first half.

It was the number of players it rotated through, showcasing just how deep and talented the unit will be come the regular season. In fact, 13 total defensive players have recorded sacks over the first three preseason games.

“It’s amazing. It really is,” safety Duron Harmon said. “The depth that we have on this team, we have so many people who have played so many meaningful snaps, not only for us, but for other teams in the NFL. When you have that, it makes it hard on the coaches with who goes out there and how much each person plays and try and find roles. 

“It gives so much confidence in the defense that no matter who is out there, if somebody get hurt, or if we are running a different type of coverage or different group everybody has the confidence in each and everybody back there that they are going to get the job done.”

The first unit played the entire first half before giving way to the second and third stringers for the second half. There truly will be some hard cuts over the next week on that side of the ball.

Carolina’s first-team offense played basically the same amount of time and the Patriots held their playmakers in check. Before being forced from the game with an ankle injury, Cam Newton was 4-for-6 with 30 yards, while running back Christian McCaffrey was held to 16 yards on three carries and only one catch for 10 yards.

That is a damn good job. 

The thing that makes the Patriots defense so good is it is talented across the board.

Up front, there’s newcomer Michael Bennett, who recorded a sack in the game, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and then in the middle linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, who all can do different things.

Then the backend may be one of the most talented secondaries in football. Stephon Gilmore locks down the No. 1 spot, but then talented players are behind him in Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones. Heck, J.C. Jackson didn’t see much time with the starters, and his talent was shown last year. At safety, it’s very experienced with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Harmon and Terrence Brooks being added into the mix this offseason. 

That isn’t even mentioning rookies Chase Winovich (who started Thursday), cornerback Joejuan Williams, lineman Bryron Cowart and second-year players linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley and corner Duke Dawson.

Thursday, it was stopping a mobile quarterback with a shifty running back. Week 1 against the Steelers it will be stopping a high-powered passing attack with wide receivers who can stretch the field. Another week it will be an offense which relies heavily on the running game. 

But with the talent and depth the Patriots defense has, it really is in a position to go head-to-head with any offense in the league.

“It’s fun. The more guys that are out there, and obviously you want to be versatile,” Jason McCourty said. “The more things you can do, the more things you can pick up, not only is it a better opportunity for you, but the more diverse our defense is. Right now we’re trying to build that. Each day we get a chance to practice. Each preseason game we get a chance to grow and get better, and probably most importantly come together as a unit.”

Last year, the unit finished 15th overall (349 yards per game), but seventh in points allowed (20.3 per game). It really hit its stride in the postseason with a dominating performance in the first half against the Chiefs and limiting the Rams to only three in the Super Bowl.

The unit didn’t lose much in the offseason besides Trey Flowers, but gained the rookies, as well as Bennett and Collins. Realistically, the unit has the potential to be even better.

Harmon, who is entering his seventh season with the team, recognizes just how deep the unit it.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It truly is amazing knowing no matter who is out there they are going to get the job done. When you have that type of confidence in each other special things happen.”

While the preseason games don’t count for anything, the Patriots defense is showing the potential to be able to carry the 2019 Patriots and matchup with any offense it faces along the way.

Related: Rookie WR Jakobi Meyers struggles in first action with Tom Brady