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Grading The New England Patriots Defense: A Promising Week Two Performance Against The Steelers

We’re going to break down and rank each positional group of the New England Patriots defense each week, in order to always make it easy for you to ingest what’s going on currently with the New England Patriots’ seemingly good-for-now-and-thank-god-for-that defensive unit.

On Sunday, The New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers faced off for the 34th time in league history.

The Patriots were able to secure a tough road win against a difficult rival opponent this week, winning against the Pittsburgh Steelers and improving their record for the season to 1-1. Bill Belichick is now 9-3 in games against Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin which is an impressive statistic considering Tomlin has never recorded a losing season during his tenure as the Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Opening the season at 1-1 instead of 0-2 was a near-necessity, as teams that start the season 0-2 rarely make the playoffs. The Patriot’s victory on Sunday marks the 20th year in a row that Bill Belichick has managed to avoid a 0-2 start. Proof that every single year he’s been in charge, he’s always managed to keep his team relevant and involved in the earliest developmental stages of the NFL playoff race.

The offense looked solid, if not (dare I say) good. There was a promising indication that this young team will continue to grow as a unit and improve steadily over the coming weeks. The defense, on the other hand, played exceptionally well and showed some clear improvement over their performance during last week’s opener against Miami.

New England Patriots Linebackers:

Grade: B+ (Last Weeks Grade: B-)

Roster: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Matthew Judon, Mack Wilson Sr., Josh Uche, Jahlani Tavai, Anfernee Jennings

Changes to the roster from last week: (None)

Best Of The Bunch:

Matthew Judon (Four Tackles, One Sack, One TFL, One PD, One QB Hit)

Matt Judon continues to dominate opposing offenses as he simultaneously garners and expands his veteran leadership role amongst a team of young, hungry talent. He showed great intensity after big hits and was seemingly all over the field making important plays on Sunday. If this kind of high-caliber play remains consistent, he could turn out to be the much-needed, vocal centerpiece of this Patriots’ defense that has the potential to become one of the league’s best.

Judon recorded a sack of Mitchell Trubisky to end the first half, chasing Trubisky down from behind as the QB attempted to reach the sideline. Trubisky was not able to reach the sideline in time and was dragged down from behind by a lightning-quick pursuer in Matt Judon who pounced on the veteran QB and crumpled him much like a cheetah taking down a helpless gazelle.

The Patriots struggled early on against the Steelers when defending against 3rd down conversion attempts, but as the game progressed, they eventually came together to force two punts on two consecutive three-and-outs by the Steelers during their final two offensive drives of the game. On the Steeler’s last drive of the game, they went three and out after a nasty pass deflection/coverage by Judon over the middle of the field. Judon was noticeably amped and celebrated thusly while his teammates nearby joined him for a quick team celebration. Matthew Judon is becoming the heart of this defense and if this 2022 Patriots team turns out to be special, he will be one of the main reasons.

Jahlani Tavai (Four Tackles, One Sack, One TFL, One QB Hit)

Tavai was a pleasant surprise for New England fans everywhere on Sunday. A lot of fairweather and casual fans probably hadn’t even heard of him until this week, (hell, I hardly know anything about the man outside of his name and his position) but after the performance he put on against the Steelers, he’s sure to be on the radar of Patriots fans and opposing coaches throughout the nation during this week and the ensuing weeks that follow.

The Patriots had trouble stopping the Steelers on third down towards the beginning of the game, The Steelers started out by converting six out of seven third down conversion attempts. The momentum was turned around shortly after when Tavai recorded a beautiful sack of Mitchell Trubisky while the Steelers were in the red zone. Bringing the Steelers to six out of eight on 3rd down conversions and subsequently sending them into a downward spiral, the result of which was the Steelers finishing the game 8-for-15 on 3rd down conversion attempts. Tavai’s sack may have been the most important play of the game in terms of shifting momentum in the favor of New England.

Needs To Step It Up

None. It’s tempting to put Mack Wilson Sr. (Three tackles, One PD) here for the big missed tackle he had, but overall he still played well and his tipped pass resulting in an interception was a key play in this game. The entire linebackers unit was solid and everyone did their job stupendously for the most part.

New England Patriots Defensive Backs:

Grade: B (Last Weeks Grade: C+)

Roster: Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Devin McCourty, Jabrill Peppers, Cody Davis, Brenden Schooler

Changes to the roster from last week:

(-) Joshua Bledsoe (inactive)

(-) Marcus Jones (inactive)

(-) Kyle Dugger (left with an injury)

Players Elevated: The Patriots chose not to elevate a player from their practice squad, with Bledsoe seemingly out for only a week, they likely chose to leave his roster spot vacant expecting his speedy recovery and quick return.

Best Of The Bunch

Jabrill Peppers (Two Solo Tackles, Three Tackles Overall)

Jack Jones (Two Solo Tackles)

These are two players that Patriots fans have been eager to see more of, expecting positive results upon their integration into the roster. Both players recorded some playing time on Sunday and both players shared in the success of the Patriot’s defensive effort, recording two solo tackles a piece, with Peppers also notching a third tackle on a team effort.

Jack Jones made a good play in coverage and made his presence known with a fantastic effort to get penetration into the Steelers backfield resulting in a loss of yards. Peppers also made noise, quite literally with a similar play and booming tackle on a key Steelers third down play that went for no gain and subsequently resulted in a punt. Both players performed admirably and it’s clear now that we have much more depth in our secondary than people initially thought we might entering the season. Music to our ears.

Needs To Step It Up

Myles Bryant (Five Solo Tackles, Eight Total Tackles, One PD)

Once again there are a few players here we could single out for various mistakes throughout Sunday’s contest, but nothing seemingly bad enough to outweigh the good. If there’s one concern to keep on the radar though, you can consider Myles Bryant’s coverage something that the Patriots should be looking to improve on. He recorded eight tackles and had some decent plays in coverage, but also had some huge missed assignments and at one point he muffed a punt that the Patriots were lucky to avoid catastrophe on.

Jalen Mills (Four Solo Tackles, Six Total Tackles, One PD)

Jalen Mills also seemed to get burned a few times on underneath crossing routes by Diontae Johnson who caught a number of uncontested passes amongst the sideline with little resistance from Mills. This was however most likely a side-effect result of certain strategy-specific game-planning which involved a hybrid rush along with a nickel-back zone coverage scheme, mostly focused on shutting down the running game and defending against big plays. But there were a couple of times Mills was slightly out-of-position, and as a result, gave up a few long completions on 3rd down that could’ve proven costly in such a close game.

Overall, Jalen Mills had a monster game with four tackles, and one PD, and up to now, he’s played at a level we’re happy to see him play at. He has the potential to be better though, he’s almost even close to obtaining a status of greatness… But he obviously still has a few areas of his game that need improvement before we can start ranking him amongst the other top players at the position.

New England Patriots Defensive Line:

Grade: B+ (Last Weeks Grade: B-)

Roster: Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Carl Davis Jr., Lawrence Guy, Damarcus Mitchell, Daniel Ekuale

Changes to the roster from last week:

(-) Sam Roberts (inactive).

Best Of The Bunch

Lawrence Guy (Two Solo Tackles, Four Total Tackles)

Christian Barmore (Two Solo Tackles, One TFL, One Sack, One QB Hit)

Deatrich Wise Jr. (Three Solo Tackles, Four Total Tackles)

Couldn’t ask for much more from the big guys up front. They were consistently able to create pressure on the QB and played a complimentary game of football along with the hybrid zone linebackers to continue to improve upon what’s shaping up to be a deadly combination of defensive prowess. If one group wasn’t causing pressure, the other usually was, and it’s a very promising sign to see the Patriots hold Najee Harris to 49 yards on 15 carries, a week after bottling up Miami Dolphins running back Chase Edmonds (to whom they allowed only 25 yards on 12 carries).

There’s plenty to be optimistic about concerning the state of the New England Patriots’ defensive line. They showed consistent pressure on first down this week, which was an improvement on last week when they let up a lot of unnecessary yardage on first down. They also had penetration on most of if not all of the key plays and continuously made things very difficult for perennial average QB Mitchell Trubisky who only managed to throw for 168 yards, was sacked three times for 16 yards, and threw one interception.

Needs To Step It Up

The entire defensive line played a great game and it kind of feels unfair to leave Devon Godchaux off the list above. But for the amount he was paid this offseason, he should probably be leading this group weekly, and it’s almost certain the Patriots expect to get a little more out of him than we’ve seen throughout the first two weeks of the season. He played good enough though, recording two tackles, and was an involved part of the Patriot’s successful battle of the trenches during Sunday’s victory.

Patriots Vs. Ravens: Sunday, September 25, 2022, at 1:00 PM ET

The (1-1) New England Patriots will be playing their first home game of the year at Gillette Stadium this week against the visiting (1-1) Baltimore Ravens, this Sunday, September 25th at 1:00 PM ET. The Patriots are obviously coming off a hard-earned victory against the Steelers in a close game that resulted in a final score of 17-14. The Ravens are coming into town with the weight of a soul-crushing loss on their shoulders, after a game in which they somehow managed to blow a 21-point halftime lead, losing to the Dolphins with a final score of 38-42.

Lamar Jackson is going to prove to be an ultimate test of the Patriots’ defensive capabilities given his hybrid utilization within the Ravens’ offense. Last week against Miami he put up eye-popping numbers (318 Passing Yards, Three Passing TD’s, 119 Rushing Yards, and One Rushing TD), but ultimately the Ravens fell victim to an even more insane performance by Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa (who threw for 469 yards and tied the Dolphins Franchise record for most TD passes in a single game with an unthinkable SIX scoring strikes).

Lamar is going to be pissed coming into this week, but he’s always pissed and that’s really nothing new. He’s definitely looking for redemption this week, but it’s hard to imagine some of the weight from that tough loss doesn’t fall on his shoulders and perhaps a shadow starts to cast doubt upon his ego after being outperformed so clearly by another young talent in Tua. Regardless, if we do get the best of Lamar Jackson, it’s going to be an incredibly difficult game to win.

There’s realistically no way for the Patriots to prepare for the speed of Jackson at QB… There’s a possibility they’ll try to find a clever way to replicate his playstyle in practice, but for the most part, playing against Lamar Jackson is a one-of-a-kind once-a-year type of challenge and it’s imperative that we put our best foot forward and bring our A-game this week in order to stand a chance against another perennial competitor in the Baltimore Ravens.

Go Pats!

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