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Grading The Patriots Defense: A Jack Of All Jones

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 defensive unit.

It’s Monday night, towards the end of the MNF game between the 49ers and the Rams. I’m finally snapping out of the depression coma I had fallen into after Sunday afternoon’s exceptionally close game between the Pats and the Packers. It seemed like we should’ve had that one probably; we were certainly in every position to win. An undebatably soul-crushing loss.

The offense was obviously put in a difficult position to start, with Mac Jones ruled inactive due to the ankle injury he suffered against the Ravens. Hoyer would have likely been a serviceable backup and may have even led us to victory. But unfortunately, he was knocked out of the game early due to concussion protocol after a first-quarter sack by the Packer’s menacing defensive lineman Rashan Gary.

Third-String QB Bailey Zappe came into the game as relief for the injured Hoyer. Though he played very well considering the circumstances of his first experience under center in the NFL, the deck was stacked against him. In the end, the Green Bay Packers would close out overtime with a go-ahead Mason Crosby field goal during the final seconds of overtime as the play clock expired. Final score: Patriots 24, Packers 27.

It’s easy to blame the offense for this one, though they did play fairly well in actuality. The defense also played exceptionally well for most of the game and made life difficult for one of the best QBs in the league Aaron Rodgers. The defense deserves a heap of praise for its continually impressive efforts over the first four weeks of the season. Heaps of praise all around… Except for you, Myles Bryant. You know what you did.

New England Patriots Linebackers:

Grade: B- (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:

(+) Raekwon McMillan (-) Harvey Langi (demoted back to practice squad)

Best Of The Bunch:

Jahlani Tavai (Five Solo Tackles, Eight Total Tackles)

I would feel good about putting Ja’Whaun Bentley here, or even Matthew Judon again for the third time in a row, as the entire linebacker core played great against the Pack on Sunday. But, it seems more appropriate to give it to Tavai this week. Only a few weeks after popping onto New England Patriots fans’ radars, he was simply all over the field making plays.

There’s not much for anyone interested in a little history on Tavai, but there are a few things worth going over. Tavai was drafted 43rd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions (back when Matt Patricia was the coach). He played fairly well during his rookie season, appearing in 15 games and recording modest stats. He injured his shoulder during Week 16 that season and stayed a part of the Lions Organization until August 31st, 2021, when he was waived and subsequently signed by the Patriots a day later on September 1st, 2021.

Last year, he was mostly a practice squad player for New England and only managed to record three tackles during his time as part of the active roster. This year, however, partly due to his ties with Matt Patricia, he’s found himself as an emergent and key piece of a formidable New England linebacking core. It’s always impressive to see a player climb their way up from the depths of the practice squad and evolve into a player who’s making a difference in the NFL on a weekly basis. Tavai has done everything possible to earn our respect, and we all hope to see him become a big part of this team throughout the coming seasons.

Tavai was amazing against Green Bay’s vicious one-two punch running back combination. Besides letting up one big Aaron Jones gain on an outside toss play on 4th and 1, Tavai was essentially the only reason Aaron Jones didn’t rumble for 300 yards and four touchdowns. He saved the day on multiple instances, making spectacular open-field tackles against Jones on several different occasions, continuously finding himself involved, and making a huge difference within the Patriot’s run defense.

He may have also gotten burned on a passing play or two, but that’s to be expected of any linebacker playing in zone coverage. A QB as smart as Aaron Rodgers will take advantage of that kind of match-up any time they can. It’s usually on the coaches if this happens. Overall, Tavai was integral to keeping this game as close as it was. Complimented by the weekly efforts of Matthew Judon and Ju’Whaun Bentley, the Patriots linebackers core may soon be considered one of the best in the NFL.

Needs To Step It Up:

(None). Great work this week from the linebackers. No gripes from me.

New England Patriots Defensive Backs:

Grade: B (Last Weeks Grade: C)

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

Changes to the roster from last week:

(+) Shaun Wade (+) Kyle Dugger (-) Joshua Bledsoe (inactive) (-) Jalen Mills (inactive)

Best Of The Bunch:

Jack Jones (Three Solo Tackles, Seven Total Tackles, One PD, One INT, One Defensive TD, One FF, One Fumble Recovery)

Before the game had started, Al Michaels mentioned Aaron Rodgers was two scores shy of reaching the milestone of 500 Career Passing TDs. He also mentioned that those two scores were “due today,”… In a way, basically discounting the Patriot’s defense completely.

The Patriot’s defense had something to say about that and immediately responded during the Packer’s first offensive series with a sensational strip fumble and ensuing recovery by promising rookie defensive back Jack Jones who was clearly out to prove himself and make the most of his opportunity as a starter on defense.

The effort that Jack Jones put forth on Sunday was exactly the kind of single-player performance we’ve been chomping at the bit for as Patriots fans. These are the kind of big-play performances that will typically win the game for most teams during most games. Even though we still came up short, Jack Jones was 75% of the reason we hung in there like we did, as he provided both of our takeaways on the night and even scored an increasingly rare Patriots defensive TD on an attempted out route from Rodgers to receiver Romeo Doubs, which likely provided some Patriots fans with welcome flashbacks of Ty Law and Asante Samuel.

After the game, Jack Jones said he felt it was disrespectful for Aaron Rodgers to challenge him with that pass.

“Personally, I feel like it’s disrespectful to throw an out route on me… …If you can throw the ball past me to get to the receiver, I’m no good.” Jack Jones, via NESN’s Zack Cox.

Pick-6 for the rookie Jack Jones! @presidentjacc 📺: #NEvsGB on CBS 📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/YPHqeLC4zg pic.twitter.com/OJItBVOmYW — NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2022

Along with the takeaways, Jack Jones recorded several key tackles on the night and wasn’t directly responsible for most of the big plays that were given up in his direction. He provides an incredibly promising boost to this young defense. If he can play like this again, even if it’s only a couple more games this year, he will be a star on this defense and possibly even a name that will be known throughout the entire league.

If there was one thing to be critical of, it was perhaps when Jack Jones let up a first down early on after attempting to strip the ball again instead of going for a leg tackle. The missed tackle resulted in a few extra yards, which as a result, allowed the first down.

He also got burnt on a play-action pass to Alan Lazard over the middle of the field, where he got ahead of himself and slipped and fell, allowing what was a key first down during the Packer’s game-winning field goal drive in overtime. Tough end to the game for sure after such a strong performance and a play I’m sure he wishes he could have back. Overall, not enough to spoil his night as a hero for me. Couldn’t be happier with what we saw from Jack Jones on Sunday.

Also, on a side note concerning the Patriot’s secondary: Jabrill Peppers pulled himself up from the ground using a nifty handstand-type move after a kick return, and it looked cool as hell. Always fun to see world-class athletes showing off what they’re capable of.

Needs To Step It Up

Myles Bryant

… You know what you did.

Seriously, why is this guy still out there on an NFL field? I noted that I was laughing last week when he muffed a punt, as it was almost too on-brand for him. This week, he was literally laughing to himself, probably nervously, in fear for his job, as he committed a game-altering penalty late in the 4th quarter… Later, in overtime, he blew a coverage against the sixth-oldest Wide Reciever in the league (Randall Cobb), leading to another key first down. Myles Bryant essentially somehow lost us the game two separate times. He clearly needs additional work on his mechanics and basic fundamentals, and I wouldn’t expect him to be suiting up this upcoming week or likely anytime soon.

New England Patriots Defensive Line:

Grade: C (Last Weeks Grade: B+)

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

Changes to the roster from last week:

(+) Sam Roberts (-) Lawrence Guy (inactive)

Best Of The Bunch:

Davon Godchaux (Three Solo Tackles, Six Total Tackles)

Overall, not a super impressive showing from the big guys up front. They did their thing, though, and I don’t think it’s anything to panic about, really. The Packers have a great offensive line, and the absence of Lawrence Guy likely played a big part in the Patriot’s defensive lines’ struggle to produce more pressure. They played decent against the running game but had a lot of help from the rest of the team, and in reality, they probably let Aaron Jones get by a few too many times.

Godchaux played well in the wake of Guy’s absence and put up solid numbers in a game where he seemed to make more tackles than he actually did. The boys got close on a couple of sacks. Still, overall we’d obviously like to see more QB pressure, especially against top-tier QBs who you simply can’t afford to allow comfortability to, such as last week’s opponent and noted ayahuasca enthusiast Aaron Rodgers.

Needs To Step It Up

Deatrich Wise Jr. (4 Total Tackles)

A week after being a defensive stand-out and recording a career game in which he totaled three sacks, Wise Jr. was almost nowhere to be found. If I had to guess, the absence of Lawrence Guy Sr. was probably the biggest reason for that. Those guys have carefully formulated complimentary chemistry between their playstyles over the last few years as teammates, and it’s easy to see that a lack of familiarity can throw a wrench into any facet of any active roster. It’d be nice to see the guys who got additional playing time step up and make up the difference, but that’s honestly a fairly rare occurrence to witness.

The boys did fine. There is plenty to build on and nothing glaringly alarming regarding a defensive effort. Overall, it was a close overtime game between two good teams, and it’d be borderline unreasonable to claim this defense wasn’t playing well. They’re doing great, all things considered, and if we can manage a few wins in the coming weeks, people will be quick to change their tune. They always are.

Conclusion

“In the end, Rodgers was just too good… He made some throws that only Rodgers can make. We had pretty good coverage on those, and he was just too smart, too good, too accurate.” Bill Belichick

Aaron Rodgers typically dominates at home against AFC teams. The Packers are 18-1 in their last 19 home games where Aaron Rodgers has started against other teams in the AFC. This wasn’t a huge surprise of an outcome, and the fact that we kept this game as close as we did, should be the main thing that we take away from this. Quell your negativity, friends; there are still 13 games left to play this season. Who knows what could happen?

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