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Grading The Patriots Defense: Best Its Been, But Only Up From Here

A weekly breakdown and grading of the Patriot’s defensive unit by positional group.

Best. Defense. In. The. NFL. I don’t care. Your arguments against it mean nothing anymore. The 49ers and the Cowboys both got thrashed this week. The Bill’s defense is really good, but… They’re still the Buffalo Bills last time I checked (0-4 in their appearances in the big one), and the absence of Tre White and Micah Hyde are hurting them. Simply put, no other defenses in the NFL have looked as dominant as the New England Patriots defense over the past two weeks.

It took the Patriot’s defense all of TWO PLAYS to force their first turnover during Sunday’s road game against the Cleveland Browns. After going shotgun with five wide receivers on first down, the Browns opted to run a play-action pass the very next play, which is a smart one-two combination of plays and would probably catch a lot of NFL defenses off-guard. The Patriots, however, were seemingly coached in this exact scenario, as they perfectly recognized the play, didn’t bite one bit on the fake to Nick Chubb, and proceeded to disrupt the pocket immediately through the efforts of Dietrich Wise Jr., who knocked Jacoby Brissett off-balance during his throw which was ensuingly underthrown and intercepted by Kyle Dugger.

It was a beautiful start to the game defensively, and though the Patriots fell short on their corresponding offensive drive, the tone had been set. The Patriots would essentially go on to dominate the Browns on the afternoon, resulting in Monday morning headlines around Cleveland, such as:

“Pathetic? Lifeless? Embarrassing? Pick your word for Browns’ loss to Patriots.” Terry Pluto – cleveland.com

🙁 Sorry Cleveland. You still rock.

Bill Belichick, whose first Head Coaching job in the NFL was with Cleveland, is also someone who still thinks Cleveland rocks. In a heartwarming and wholesome moment, Bill called all of the Patriots players back onto the field after the game and gave a speech regarding certain names represented by the Cleveland Brown’s Ring Of Honor and their relation to the fight for social justice and equality.

He commented on this moment during the Patriot’s post-game press conference:

“Yeah. Thanks. I told them after the game. As many know, our players are very active in social justice and inequality and things like that. I told them how important five of those names are. All of them are great players up there and great people up there, so I’m not saying that. But there’s five that to me really absolutely stand out on the Mount Rushmore of this conversation. Paul Brown for reintegrating the NFL. He came into the NFL through the All-American Conference with Bill Willis and Marion Motley. So those three. Then of course Ozzie Newsome being one of the first black players in Alabama and one of the great ones. Great player. Great general manager. Great person. Then of course, the great Jim Brown. He kind of stands above everybody with what he’s done for equality, what he stands for, what he was as a football player, what he is as a man. Paul Brown took a lot of courage to do what he did. Took a lot of courage to do what Willis and Motley did. Lot of courage to do what Ozzie did. It took a lot of courage for Jim Brown to do what he did. I told them I thought they should go out there and just think for a minute about some of the sacrifices that those guys made. Not just on the field. Not just as players, but as people and for what they stood for. Thanks for the question.” Bill Belichick

During the entire game, there was a sense of comradery between Browns fans and Patriots fans who had teamed up to form a “**** The Yankees” chant, as the New York Yankees themselves were likely not too far away in downtown Cleveland, preparing to face off against the Cleveland Guardians for Game Four of the MLB American League Divisional Series.


Pats fans and Browns fans combine for a “*Blank* the Yankees” chat at FirstEnergy Stadium. #Browns #Guardians pic.twitter.com/vshyTiUehk — Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) October 16, 2022

A couple of other noteworthy tidbits and interesting stories came out of Sunday’s game, such as Bill Belichick tying George Halas for most all-time wins at 324 (regular and post-season combined). Bill Belichick’s record as a head coach now stands at 324-159, which looks absolutely absurd as a statistic, and would probably seem impossible had you not witnessed it for yourself. Bill has a chance to pass George Halas to become the second-most winningest NFL Head Coach in history next week with a win against the Chicago Bears.

Some other fun things that happened on Sunday include:

  1. Brenden Schooler tried to give the ball from his fumble recovery directly to Belichick, who didn’t seem very enthusiastic to receive his present and immediately handed it off to another coach on the sidelines.

  2. Devante Parker was seen having an argument with WR Coach Troy Brown early on in the game, but it didn’t amount to anything, and Parker is quoted as describing it as usual football stuff.

  3. Trent Green has been getting roasted for his lack of proper QB analysis during the game. Many people have been saying that for an 11-year NFL QB veteran, Trent Green gave a very poor analysis of the game and was basically saying stuff anyone could see for themselves.

I’m sure there’s some more stuff to go over, but it’s probably time for me to get into the defense… Right after I mention this thing one time:


The @Browns’ new midfield logo will be Brownie the Elf. pic.twitter.com/C5W0bz3UD8 — Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 13, 2022

This guy looks like he shakes down the Keebler Elves for protection money. Perfect for Cleveland.

New England Patriots Linebackers:

Grade: A (Last Weeks Grade: A-)

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

Changes to the roster from last week: (None)

Inactive:

Josh Uche (hamstring)

Best Of The Bunch:

Mack Wilson Sr. (Four Total Tackles, One Solo Tackle, 0.5 Sacks, One QB Hit)

I can’t put Judon here every week, even though, once again, there are plenty of reasons I should. The linebacking core has been exceptional this year, something that’s only possible due to Matthew Judon stepping up into a Tedy Bruschi-type leadership role and really inspiring the entire team around him.

This week was basically perfect for the linebackers, with the entire core showing up to compete and each player recording effective, consistent, and similar stat lines. They weren’t super exciting statistically and didn’t record many big plays this week, but they were still everywhere they were supposed to be, and one of the main reasons we were able to hold the NFL’s leading rusher, Nick Chubb, to only 56 yards.

The two linebackers who stood out most to me this week were Mack Wilson Sr and Anfernee Jennings. They both put up several big-hit statement-type plays and undeniably made their presence known to the Cleveland Brown’s offense.

Mack Wilson was successful in his revenge game, notching a couple of big hits on some of his former teammates, including a defensive effort of the year nominee while recording his only sack during a play in which he missed Brissett on his first diving tackle attempt, yet somehow managed to get back up, and chase him down a few yards away where he would manage to bring him down on a second-effort.

Anfernee Jennings also recorded three QB hits, and Jacoby Brissett didn’t look like he really wanted to get up after any of them.

The other linebackers played well also. McMillan contributed. Tavai contributed. Bentley made a couple of plays. Couldn’t ask for anything more from this group. Except maybe…

Needs To Step It Up:

Matthew Judon?!?!

Nah, he’s fine. It’s just perhaps knowing his ceiling; we’d obviously like to see him come closer to those kinds of games. Despite not recording a sack or flashy stat line, he was still great this game.


New England Patriots Defensive Line:

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

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

Changes to the roster from last week:

(+) Damarcus Mitchell

Inactive:

Lawrence Guy (Shoulder)

Best Of The Bunch:

Deatrich Wise Jr. (Three Total Tackles, Three Solo Tackles, One Sack, One PD, One QB Hit)

A player I don’t mind putting here every week is Deatrich Wise Jr. In his sixth season with the Patriots, he’s finally becoming the stalwart defensive lineman we’ve always known he could become. He’s having his best year by far. He’s even risen to the occasion of Lawrence Guy’s absence over the past two weeks, temporarily inheriting his leadership responsibilities and just generally being a menace all over the field.

On a key 3rd and one, right before the half, the Browns were driving into scoring position and attempted a pass which Wise was able to provide heavy pressure on and deliver a huge hit onto Brissett, giving Jacoby something to think about going into the locker room for half-time. Instead of a TD, the Browns had to settle for their second field goal and went into halftime trailing 6-10.

Deatrich Wise was responsible for the most pass pressure we’ve seen from a defensive lineman on the Patriots this year during Sunday’s game against the Browns. He was in there on almost every passing play, and it’s surprising he didn’t end up with a multiple-sack game due to his extraordinary performance. I would argue that he had the second-most impact defensively for the Patriots on Sunday. He was detrimental on several key momentum-shifting defensive plays, and he seems to be well on his way to the first Pro Bowl consideration of his career this year.

Needs To Step It Up:

I got nothing. I did not expect our line to perform this well against the NFL’s best running back, and I don’t think Bill could ask for much more out of his linemen.

New England Patriots Defensive Backs:

Grade: A- (Last Weeks Grade: A)

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

Changes to the roster from last week:

(-) Joshua Bledsoe (-) Jonathan Jones

Inactive:

Joshua Bledsoe (groin)

Jonathan Jones (ankle)

Best Of The Bunch:

Kyle Dugger (Eight Total Tackles, Six Solo Tackles, Two PD, One INT)

Kyle Dugger absolutely single-handedly set the tone for this week’s game. He recorded a nice open-field tackle on the Brown’s first offensive play of the game, and on their second, he recorded this immaculate interception:


👑 King Dugg with the pick. pic.twitter.com/CNO7YCmEwQ — Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) October 16, 2022

From this point on, Dugger and the Patriot’s defense essentially dominated the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense. Dugger was all over the field, seemingly tackling everyone on the Brown’s offense that was unlucky enough to receive the ball. He also provided pressure on a couple of well-timed blitzes, which means he was contributing on every level of the field on defense. This man is a future all-pro, maybe even this year, at this rate.

Needs To Step It Up:

Jalen Mills?

Nah, he did great too. He let up a couple of first downs to star wideout Amari Cooper, but for the most part, he did a great job shutting down the WR1 whenever he was assigned to cover him. Amari Cooper finished the game with only four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. Most of those catches were also remarkable, and you couldn’t ask for much better coverage from Jalen, even on the completions.

Plus, he recorded a nice interception as well.

Mills was quoted after the game regarding his match-up:

“It was good. I have been battling against (Browns WR Amari) Coop (Cooper) since our freshman year in college. He is a really big receiver in this league so we know each other pretty well.” Jalen Mills on Amari Cooper

Always cool when players who played against each other in college continue the tradition into the NFL. Very neat.

New England Patriots Vs. Chicago Bears

Next week, the Patriots will take on the Bears at their home turf of Gillette Stadium under the lights for what’s sure to be another exciting edition of Monday Night Football. The game starts at 8:15 PM ET.

Bill Belichick will be looking to win his 325th game as an NFL Head Coach and move into sole possession of the #2 spot on the list for most wins all-time after tying the late and great George Halas this week with 324 wins.

The Bears are reportedly set to “re-evaluate every player on the roster” before this week’s game, which sounds like an absolute disaster in the making for Chicago. Look for the Patriots to use their momentum to its fullest and deliver an absolute thumping against a young frustrated Chicago Bears team this Monday in Foxborough. 100-0 Patriots. Go Pats!

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