How the Patriots Reinvented Their Defense

Soon after the departure of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner from the New England Patriots, it seemed as if they where once again crossing dangerous territory on the defensive side of the ball. From 2011-2013, the Patriots defense failed to be consistent, allowing in all three season more than 20 points per game and being the main reason they failed to capture a Super Bowl title in those years. The departures of other key corners such as Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard virtually left the Patriots secondary almost nonexistent, and has guaranteed the likely possibility it will be a long struggle to produce consistent play on that position all throughout the season.

How the Patriots Reinvented Their Defense

What transpired next, however, was once again a stroke of genius by the best coach of the NFL in Bill Belichick, commencing a defensive rebuilding process that completely altered their scheme and continuing the long tradition known as “the Patriot Way”. Instead of narrowing their focus on the secondary (as that market was heavily scarce in free agency), Belichick chose to focus more on improving the Patriot’s front seven. It is most likely Belichick will change the defensive scheme to a 4-3 in order to concentrate more efforts in stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback, but in order to do that he needed to get the appropriate players to make it possible.

They began the free agency period by acquiring Jabaal Sheard, a defensive lineman that played four years with the Cleveland Browns. Sheard’s numbers where decent in Cleveland, showing the potential that he can fit the mold of a Belichick-type defensive front. An underrated player, his numbers will greatly improve once in this system, where putting pressure on the quarterback will be a high priority.

Through the draft, the Patriots also added more depth to the defensive front by drafting defensive tackle Malcolm Brown. While there are some red flags in terms of his technique, his skills can translate to much success in the NFL level with the guidance of a coach like Belichick, as he has the strength of a Vince Wilfork the mobility of a linebacker, and can serve as a the perfect player to replace Wilfork in that position, since he departed in free agency to joined the Houston Texans due to being cut. Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are also two other valuable defensive ends that can be considered steals in the draft, and they can come out as replacements for veteran defensive ends on the team, and keep the consistency of the positions going.

Last year’s defensive front was moderately young, with many of their players in just their first or second year in the league, and it was also decimated by injuries, not letting them achieve their full potential. Expect this year’s unit to be completely different, as they are now healthier, and have a better understanding of Belichick’s rigorous system of Xs and Os. They will be more physical when attacking, and will find great success when putting pressure.

Their linebacking corps is also set to have a great season, remaining virtually intact from the year before. The return of key players like Jerod Mayo, who suffered a season ending injury last year to the Buffalo Bills, and the slow ascendance of Jaime Collins, who has gotten better each year has been in the league, should enable them to be the one of the consistent factors in the defensive side all season long. The clear standout from this group is Collins, who’s on the verge on having a breakout season by displaying an array of talents that include great pass rushing skills and well-to-decent ones in man to man coverage. The talk around camp defensively has been focusing much attention to Collins performance as well, solidifying him as a player to watch this coming season.

It is also important to address the secondary, and what will be their priority in this new scheme. The safety position is actually in good hands with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung as the anchors on that side, as well as Duron Harmon playing as a backup to them. The cornerback situation, as it was alluded in the beginning, is much different. They signed Bradley Fletcher in early March; he’s actually a great corner when guarding slot receivers as well as zone coverage, but has had notable struggles when guarding top receivers man to man. This deficiency was greatly evident against Dez Bryant last year in a Sunday Night Football game as he was torched for a total of three touchdowns. Recently, they signed Tarell Brown, another left out corner who had enjoyed moderate success with the 49ers but soon began to struggle in many situations. Both players have the common denominator of having shown potential, only to completely let them go by having down years. Nevertheless, Belichick is a master at finding a player’s strength and exploiting it to much success, and he will surely find the perfect fit for Fletcher and Brown’s talents in order to help the team.

Currently, the Patriots’ cornerback depth chart is listed as Bradley Fletcher, Terrell Brown, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Robert McClain. While it doesn’t seem as bad as it originally looked, it is nowhere near as talented as it was last year. Butler, the Super Bowl hero of the Patriots by making the game clinching interception, is entering his second year in the league. He did a great job guarding Seahawks’ receivers in the Super Bowl, and has shown the potential that he can be a solid corner for a team that desperately needs them. Logan Ryan is the one who has the most upside of the group, as his first two seasons in the league has shown he can be very valuable in many instances, showing flashes of being great on a consistent basis. All the cornerbacks in the roster have a lot to prove this year, and it is necessary for them to perform at the best of their abilities in order to have any success this season. They can still be very productive so to speak, but their performance has to greatly rely on how well the front seven performs.

With almost less than a month for the season to start, there are still many questions left to answer as to whether or not this new scheme and style of play can work for the defending Super Bowl champions. The division is certainly not going to be the cakewalk it once was for them, with teams like Buffalo and Miami upgrading their defenses to at least be formidable against many of their opponents.

This is gearing up to be one of Belichick’s hardest coaching jobs since taking the reins as the head coach of the team, but if there’s one thing history has shown is that the Patriots always strive when facing adversity. This track record goes all the way back to 2001 when they where 5-5 facing elimination from the playoffs, and wound up winning six straight games to finish the season on their way to their first Super Bowl title. The next-man-up philosophy has been present in all of this, and it has shown to yield extremely positive results for the team. Where other teams panic in the face of danger, the Patriots persevere. It has been a part of their mentality since the beginning, and this year will be no exception, as the Patriots will once again do what they do best: win one way or another.

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