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Grading The Patriot’s Defense: Best Defense In The NFL?

We’re going to break down and rank each positional group of the New England Patriots’ defense each week to always make it easy for you to ingest what’s currently happening with the New England Patriots defensive unit.

I asked Pats Nation if this defense was elite a couple of times over the last few weeks during the process of sharing my articles, and for the most part, people were saying no. Turns out, those people were probably wrong.

After displaying a profusion of potential over the first four weeks of the season, the Patriot defense finally seemed to be running on all cylinders during a 29-0 Shutout win against the Detroit Lion’s record-setting offense in Week Five. The Lions came into Gillette Stadium with the NFL’s highest-scoring offense through four weeks, yet somehow, this ELITE Patriots defense was able to shut them down completely.

The Lions were unwilling to attempt any long field goals and, as a result, went 0-6 on fourth-down conversion attempts. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering when the last time an NFL team managed to somehow go 0-6 on fourth down was. Well, the answer is never. But 27 years ago, in 1995, the Patriots came close, recording the only other instance of a team going 0-5 on 4th down (dating back to 1990).

Dating back to 1990, the Lions today are just the second team to go 0 for 5 on fourth down in a game. The other was the 1995 Patriots in a 37-3 loss to Denver — Ben Volin (@BenVolin) October 9, 2022

Thanks, Ben!

The Detroit Lions had amassed a plethora of random and mostly meaningless records based around their high-powered early-season offense. Such as the record for the most combined points scored and allowed through four games in NFL history with 281. Turns out, the best offense in the NFL was no match for the new best defense in the NFL.

We’re back.

On a side note, before I started handing out grades, I wanted to mention that this was possibly the most balanced defensive effort and corresponding stat sheet I have ever seen. I’ll still be picking standouts, but it’s unfair to write this article and not mention that basically every single active player on the Patriot’s defense showed up and contributed.

This is possibly the most balanced defensive effort in NFL history. — Pat Keefe (@PatKeefe12) October 10, 2022

Jake Bailey and Rhomandre Stephenson even pitched in with a tackle each.

New England Patriots Linebackers:

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

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

Changes to the roster from last week: (None).

Best Of The Bunch:

Matt Judon (Three Total Tackles, Two Solo Tackles, Two Sacks, One TFL, Four QB Hits, One FF)

Micah Who? T.J. What? Who’s really the best linebacker in today’s NFL? If you’re a Patriots fan, you’d better start preparing your arguments and gathering talking points because we’ve officially reached the point where Matthew Judon is in the running/discussion for best linebacker in the NFL.

On Sunday, Judon became the first player in New England Patriots history to record a sack in each of his first five games (breaking the record held by Patriots legend Andre Tippett). His first sack came on a 3rd and 7, aided by heavy pressure coming from the defensive line. This was a key play in terms of building the irreversible momentum that the Patriots proudly carried all the way through the game in pursuit of the shutout.

Matt Judon turned Jarred Goff’s Sunday into a nightmare, seemingly involved in the pressure of the former number-one overall pick on almost every play. Judon’s second sack came on a 4th and 9 when the Lions opted to go for it instead of kick a 51-yard field goal with a rookie kicker. This was easily the best play of the game, as Judon’s strip-sack on Goff would be scooped up by Kyle Dugger and taken to the house for the first Patriots TD of the game. It’s worth watching again, especially from this new angle courtesy of the official New England Patriots Twitter.

Came for the sack, stayed for the celly.@budlight | #BudLightCelly 📺: #DETvsNE on @NFLonFOX — New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 9, 2022

Before the game, Judon had been spotted wearing blue sleeves instead of his signature red sleeves, which have become a fan-favorite accessory and trademark characteristic of the stalwart linebacker.

New sleeves, who dis?@man_dammn | #ForeverNE — New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 9, 2022

However, after warming up in the blue sleeves, Judon reportedly swapped back to his signature red sleeves sometime before kick-off. Both outfits have merit in terms of fashionability, but personally, I think the all-red uniform, complete with red sleeves, was the superior and correct choice. Those blue sleeves are trouble. Mark my words. If we ever see the blue sleeves come out… it’s going to be a big mistake.

I also wanted to quickly praise Raekwon McMillan, who recorded a sick TFL on a Lions 4th and 1. He’s another player we’ve been hoping to see a little more from, and it was great to see him step it up this week.

Needs To Step It Up:

For the second week in a row, I have no criticisms for any player in particular here. There were a couple of long runs that broke through the front seven, but they were few and far between, and seeing as how the Lions failed to score a singular point. It’s definitely something that can be forgiven… Not necessarily something that should be overlooked, though. (This is why I’m giving the linebackers and defensive line a grade of A- instead of A).

New England Patriots Defensive Line:

Grade: A- (Last Weeks Grade: C)

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

Changes to the roster from last week:

(-) Damarcus Mitchell


Lawrence Guy (Shoulder)

Best Of The Bunch:

Davon Godchaux, Christian Barmore, and Deatrich Wise Jr. (4 Total Tackles Each)

Working in tandem without arguably their best defensive lineman in Lawrence Guy, the Patriot’s d-line was still able to hold Detroit to 101 rushing yards and consistently provide the pressure up front required to aid in a successful pass rush.

For whatever reason, these guys seemed to click as a cohesive unit this week, and anytime one of these guys made a tackle, another one was right there with them, getting an assist. It’s impossible to pick one or the other in terms of who played the best. All of our defensive lineman came to play against the Lions, a fact which became apparent upon the final score of 29-0. Great job, boys.

Needs To Step It Up:

I’ll once again quickly mention some of the big runs that got through off-tackle or up the gut, but as I said before, nothing to worry about really when the other team fails to score a point.

New England Patriots Defensive Backs:

Grade: A (Last Weeks Grade: B)

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

Changes to the roster from last week:

(+) Joshua Bledsoe (+) Jalen Mills

Best Of The Bunch:

Adrian Phillips (Five Total Tackles, Two Solo Tackles, One TFL) and Kyle Dugger (Five Total Tackles, One Solo Tackle, One FR, One Def TD)

Over the first four weeks of the season, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips flashed potential hints that they would shortly become some of the hardest-hitting young defensive backs that this team has seen since Rodney Harrison. During Week Five against the Lions, the two hybrid defensive backs were all over the field making plays and finished the game tied for the most tackles on the team with five a piece.

During The Lion’s first possession, Dugger had a big stop on a WR screen pass, making a great open-field tackle for no gain. In the second quarter, on the play directly before Judon’s strip-sack, Phillips recorded a monstrous TFL of six yards which turned a 45-yard Lion’s field goal attempt into a 51-yard attempt, which the Lions declined to try. Instead, they opted to go for the conversion on 4th and 9, which turned into the beautiful defensive score by Dugger that was highlighted above in the linebacker segment.

Overall, both players were happy to step up and be difference-makers in the game. If you take away the efforts of Phillips, Dugger, Jack Jones, and Judon, we could’ve easily let the Lions score 30 or 40 points. The Lions really weren’t as bad as the numbers might make you think they were.

Jack Jones (Three Total Tackles, Three Solo Tackles, Two PD, One INT)

Jack Jones made a few stellar plays on Sunday and is worth mentioning as another young player who stepped up and seemingly has an incredibly bright football career ahead of him. Is it really out of the question to think he might be the next Ty Law? Watch this and then decide:

Got the feet down. Jack Jones with an interception in back-to-back weeks! @presidentjacc 📺: #DETvsNE on FOX 📱: Stream on NFL+ — NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022

Needs To Step It Up:

One of the only things I noticed this week as a negative for the defensive backs, and the only thing I’m going even to bother mentioning, concerns Jack Jones. He got burned on a comeback route for the second week in a row, and though it wasn’t for a huge gain, it could develop into a serious problem once opponents pick up on this shortcoming while exploring film. He’s literally been burned so badly on comeback routes that he’s tripped, fallen, and completely taken himself out of the play on two separate occasions, one time over each of the last two weeks.

Anytime a defensive back ends up on their back while in coverage, it could potentially mean an easy score for the opponent’s offense. This is something to look out for in the future, but hopefully, something that Jack Jones will be able to remedy through practice and coaching.


Against the Detroit Lions, ironically, the Patriot’s defenders seemed to morph into actual hungry lions during their pass rush. Goff was less reminiscent of a QB with a football, as his movements more closely resembled a terrified zookeeper fearfully clasping onto a bloody steak, waiting for the right moment to toss it away to avoid being eaten. Similarly to how he had looked during Super Bowl 53 whilst only managing to put up three points.

Jarred Goff is probably very thankful he only has to face Belichick occasionally, as he’s now 1-3, sporting a 2 TD: 5 INT ratio against the Belichick-coached Patriots.

If the defense plays this well every week, we might actually be a Super Bowl-caliber team. Popular opinion will probably state that this defense won’t face a real challenge until the Patriots go up against the Bills in Week 13 of the regular season. That gives the NFL’s new number one defense (us) plenty of time to work out the kinks and prepare for Josh Allen and the NFL’s new number one offense. If we can somehow beat the Bills in Week 13, that’s when we can start thinking Championship.

This is the NFL’s new number-one defense. Get used to it; the NFL community will be discussing it extensively over the coming weeks.

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