Young Patriots Defense Bodes Well for Future

Analyzing the Patriots’ roster in the midst of their bye week has been set on the notion that much of their success defensively going forward into this year will hinge upon the productivity of its front seven. Any form of struggle or defensive breakdown at a consistent basis from those positions will spell trouble for them all throughout the season. While this team has started the season 3-0, much of the reason has been their all too familiar offensive success, and the defense, while it has shown the necessary flashes, still finds itself unable to create the consistency to be a great unit.

Young Patriots Defense Bodes Well for Future

Looking at the unit more in depth, on the other hand, has shown a hidden fact that has not be discussed with more detail, and that’s the fact this defense (both the front seven and the back field) is a really young unit. The reason why this is very important to look more into is because of how this can help the team moving forward. It is already a given they will most likely struggle on a consistent basis all year long, unless Bill Belichick can find a scheme to hide their deficiencies (as it was more thoroughly analyzed before), but that is not to say this will remain a consistent ordeal for them in later years.

Let’s take a closer look at the age of the defensive line. The average age for the starters of the defensive line is 25.4, with its oldest player being 31 years old (Rob Ninkovich). The trio of Dominique Easley, Malcolm Brown, and Chandler Jones is 23, 21, and 25, respectively, to make an average total of exactly 23 years of age. What this tells us right away is that their best pass rushing and run stopping years are yet to come; they have much time to perfect their own techniques within their spots, learn more of Belichick’s schemes, and develop important team quemistry.

Out of every position in the entire defense, the linebacking corps is the most complete unit the Patriots have in terms of productivity and depth. It also serves to notice that their starting linebackers are below the age of 25, save for one exception (Jonathan Freney).* Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower are both 25 and 26, respectively, and they have recently acquired Jon Bostic, another high quality player that’s also 24 years old, but his role as of right now is more of a backup, as it will require some time for him to slowly be implemented more in games.**

The standout player in these positions is clearly Collins, as he is ascending as one of the top outside linebackers in the league for his versatility and athletic skills, with some analysts already proclaiming him to be the most athletic right now. Adding to his upside is his age, as this is a player that’s a perfect fit in Belichick’s system and one that will gain higher value as time progresses in his time in New England, and a player they wish to keep for many more years.

It’s fairly obvious that the weakest position on the entire defense is the cornerbacks. While safety is very decent with the likes of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung leading the way, the corners on the Patriots lack depth, versatility, technique, and experience. The youngest players in that position are both Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, who are 25 and 24 respectively. The player with the best upside here is clearly Butler, but his lack of experience has caused him to commit a lot of mental errors that should’ve been avoided. Looking at the upside he has for future showings, it is a strong possibility that he will perform better as time goes on and develop into a solid starter, but as of right now he’s a number two corner playing as a one. Another standout player that has the skills but needs more time to mature within his safety position is Durron Harmon. Harmon played excellent in the postseason, using much instinct and technique to play at a high level, but his performance has dwindled in 2015, making bad reads and not letting the instinctive nature of his position allow him to make necessary adjustments. Both players have huge upsides, but in their cases time is more of a factor, as playing backfield in the NFL is of much value, and without proper consistency this can lead to being replaced.

The front seven has shown flashes of brilliance in many games throughout the season, but as it was expected, consistency is something this unit has not learned to execute properly, and this has lead to many moments where they give up unnecessary points to the opposition. The Buffalo Bills game was a perfect example of this scenario. The unit recorded a staggering eight total sacks in three quarters of this game and was relentless forcing Tyrod Taylor to throw quicker and less accurate balls, leading to turnovers. However, in the fourth quarter, they didn’t record a single sack and allowed Buffalo to get back in the game with 19 unanswered points. Many have put much blame on Belichick for this little debacle, as he started playing fewer zones, and less pressure. Nevertheless, these types of things cannot be occurring to such extents, as they diminish the defensive productivity and puts too much pressure on a backfield that’s too young, shorthanded, and inexperience for these situations.

As the year progresses it’s most likely the defense will learn more from experiences, and Belichick and Matt Patricia may soon start implementing tweaks and new schemes that can maximize many sides of their potential. While this year can lead to great things for this team based on their offensive success, the defense shows a promising future moving forward based on their ages. Many of their players have yet to reach their prime, and having such an excellent coach by their side in those primes is going to an incredible plus.

That’s not to say however, that all they need to do is wait for them to reach their prime and they’ll find success, far from it. The Patriots need to make solid efforts next season to find a good quality cornerback that can add another dimension to the unit, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency, as it will make them a much better team than that of being oriented on just the success of the front seven. It is also not a guaranteed that current players will remain on the team in the long term, as many will enter free agency next year or years later and some will most likely depart, leaving others to fill the roll. This, however, is not as big a negative as it may seem. The Patriots are a team with an excellent “next man up” mentality, something that has greatly worked in their favor throughout the years, as it permits many players who never had the opportunity to step on to the field to finally play and do it on a high level.

The key to success for them as of right now is trusting the system, and getting more consistency out of their pass rush. The future is looking very optimistic for this side of the ball for the Patriots, now that their age and maturity level is being taken into account for their prognostications, and having a system in place where what’s expected of them to be the guiding force for them moving forward.

* Jerod Mayo is 29 years old, but his productivity and necessity has dwindled a lot this season, and rumors are he will be replaced by Jon Bostic as the season progresses.
** The same thing goes for another recently acquired player, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, which, guess again, is only 25 years old.

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