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Grading The New England Patriots Defense By Positional Group: Players Likely To Be Cut

A graded positional breakdown of the New England Patriots’ defense after their season opener against the Miami Dolphins. Going over which players excelled and which players need to improve to avoid the risk of getting cut early on in the season.

I’m sitting here at 4:45 on Sunday afternoon, watching the end of the Bengals/Steelers game, and thinking to myself that this is one of the craziest opening days in the recent history of the NFL. I don’t think anyone really expected Chicago to beat San Francisco or for the Colts to tie with the Texans, and for us over here at the Gillette Gazette, we certainly didn’t expect the Patriots to lose to the Dolphins yet again in Miami… Fortunately, optimism remains high, as we saw plenty of good things out of our defenders on Sunday, and for the most part, they were a bright spot during our hard-fought opening day defeat.

Both head coaches paced the sidelines before the game, looking somewhat lost, likely feeling those first game of the season nerves kicking in. During one of the first shots of the sideline before the game, right as the National Anthem started, Mac Jones was seen wiping sweat off his forehead, shortly before a shot of Tua Tagavoila who looked as cool as a cucumber… I hoped to myself this wasn’t going to be any sort of indication of things to come… But it more or less spelled out the day’s events that were to follow.

Mac and the offense weren’t terrible, but they simply weren’t effective enough to overcome some tough mistakes and a critical missed DPI call early on. The Patriots ended up losing the game 20-7 with a final score that sorta makes it look worse than it actually was. The defense played a decent game, holding the Dolphins to only 65 Rushing Yards and a modest 242 Passing Yards on the afternoon. It was an overall positive showing from the defensive unit, besides a few key missed tackles and a glaring lack of turnovers.

The Dolphins managed to force three turnovers against the Patriots on Sunday… The Patriots however didn’t manage to force a single turnover and we all know a lack of big plays on the defensive side of the ball is never an optimal outcome for any NFL defense. One interception and one non-beefed DPI call are all it would’ve taken for the Patriots to really be in this game and possibly even win it.

The good news is that the Patriots had a couple of close calls in terms of forcing a turnover, and they are clearly capable of making some big plays defensively this season. They should still blossom into a deadly defensive unit with the added cohesion gained through experience that can usually be gained within the first few games.

New England Patriots Linebackers:

Grade: B- (Last Weeks Grade: NA)

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

All of our active linebackers besides Anfernee Jennings (who was a surprise healthy scratch) recorded a stat on Sunday which is a good sign concerning our depth at the position. The linebackers as a group recorded two sacks and three TFLs. One of the bright spots for the Patriot’s Linebackers on Sunday was Ja’Whaun Bentley who recorded four solo tackles with seven tackles total, one sack, one TFL, and one QB hit. Matthew Judon also had an excellent showing with two solo tackles, five tackles total, one sack, one TFL, and a spectacular FOUR QB hits.

The other players were all solid and did their job for the most part. Raekwon McMillan had a decent showing, but he did however seem to half-ass a tackle at one point and give up too soon on the play. Something that Bill Belichick will not stand for in any universe, and something that may put his spot on the roster at risk at some point if he continues to display a lack of effort in any way whatsoever.

The linebacker blitz was especially effective against the Dolphins and we should expect to see a healthy combination of linebacker/DB blitzes and stunts over the course of the 2022 season if this game was any indication of things to come.

If there was one real weak spot in terms of the linebackers, it would likely involve short to mid-range passes over the middle, but it’s a coin flip whether to blame the defensive backs or the linebackers on any one of those. Overall the linebackers were solid as a unit and will look to continue to play well with some obvious room for improvement.

New England Patriots Defensive Backs

Grade: C+ (Last Weeks Grade: NA)

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

The Patriot’s secondary was a big question mark going into the season opener, and though some questions remain, we got a taste of what the situation is going to look like in terms of schemes and strategy this season. For the most part, I loved what I saw from the Patriot’s DBs against Miami. Both Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips seemingly excelled in their hybrid DB/Linebacker duties recording nine tackles and three TFL between the two of them. Unfortunately, Adrian Phillips suffered a rib injury 20 seconds before halftime and was subsequently ruled unable to return shortly after. His status currently remains unknown.

Some of the other unknowns going into this game were that of snap distribution concerning the combination of rookies and veterans who are currently rostered. The young guns were seldom seen in Sunday’s game though Jack Jones was sprinkled in for a series or two at one point, however, he failed to produce a stat.

The Patriots held Tyreek Hill to 94 yards on eight receptions without a touchdown, which was a promising outcome against someone who could be considered the best player at the position of WR in the entirety of the NFL. If this is the ceiling for WR1’s against the Patriots this year, they might as well present the Patriots with their Super Bowl rings already. Hopefully based on this performance, the defensive backs of the New England Patriots will be a force to be reckoned with this year, and a key component in another successful year of Patriots football.

If there was a clear weak point in the Patriot’s secondary, it was that of Myles Bryant. Bryant recorded four tackles in the game, but also dropped an easy interception that could’ve completely shifted the course of the game. He also returned two punts without much success and it’s hard to imagine that Marcus Jones doesn’t get his chance next week in place of Myles Bryant. If Bryant does get another start and misses another easy opportunity its likely his days with the team will be numbered.

New England Patriots Defensive Line

Grade: B- (Last Weeks Grade: NA)

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

The defensive line was probably the most solid part of the Patriot’s defense on Sunday, with no glaring mistakes or missed assignments sticking out. Wise Jr. was the best of the bunch, recording three tackles, with one QB hit, and he also had an excellent sack of QB Tua Tagavaiola early in the game that resulted in a fumble by Tua, but was unfortunately recovered by Miami. Christian Barmore was also involved in that play, though not many others as the only other stat he would record on the afternoon was a singular QB hit.

The big guys up front didn’t put up the flashiest numbers this week, but they were overall a solid and competent unit. They weren’t responsible for letting up many big plays, and along with a fair amount of depth on the roster, should serve as an extremely good unit over the duration of this season. They could definitely stand to provide a little more pressure, but as a team, the Patriots seemed to be able to provide a lot of pressure using their hybrid linebacker/DB schemes that we’ve seen popularized during recent years throughout the NFL.

New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Next week on Sunday 9/18 at 1 PM EST, the Patriots will take on the Steelers in Pittsburgh at the most poorly named stadium in the NFL, Acrisure Stadium. Located on the north shore of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers are coming off of a rollercoaster victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, where they won by a Chris Boswell field goal as time expired in overtime. This game will serve to be an important test for New England’s offense against one of the league’s best defenses in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh’s all-pro defender T.J. Watt suffered a torn pectoral in overtime during their win and is unlikely to be available for the foreseeable future. Despite the huge hit to Pittsburgh’s defense, they still have a very good defensive unit containing a couple of other star-caliber players in Cameron Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, both players who had high-stat, big games on opening day. The Patriot’s offense will have their work cut out for them and it will be interesting to see what Mac Jones is able to do against a defense that intercepted Joe Burrow an incredible four times to open the season.

The Pittsburgh offense, however, did not look great in their debut appearance against the Bengals. With Mitch Trubisky putting up a very poor completion percentage at 55% and recording only 191 passing yards through 5 quarters of play. Najee Harris also performed poorly with only 23 yards on ten carries and also injured his foot during the game and was unable to return.

There’s a chance the Patriot’s defense is going to absolutely feast on an injury-riddled, young, Trubisky-led Steelers offense next week. A good chance. I have a feeling that the 0-1 Patriots are going to be riding into Pittsburgh with a chip on their shoulder knowing that Pittsburgh probably shouldn’t have won their game, and we probably should’ve won ours against Miami. Both teams didn’t look great to open the season, and it should be a tough week 2 game for both teams in a game that will probably set the tone for the rest of the 2022 NFL regular season and beyond. Here’s to 10 Trubisky interceptions this upcoming Sunday! Go Pats!

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