The 2016 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots have made a lot of noise in the off-season, on both sides of the ball. We all know how dynamic the Pats’ offense will be with the returning starters they’re bringing into the 2017-18 season, along with the acquisitions of WR Brandin Cooks, RBs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkehead, and TE Dwayne Allen. The amount of threats Tom Brady has on the offensive side of the ball is just insane. This team could average 35 points per game this season and nobody would be surprised. Can their defense perform at the level they did last season, ranked 1st in the NFL in points allowed? We’ll take a look at the defense.
In my opinion, the best move the Patriots made in the off-season was locking up their defensive captain and leader, Dont’a Hightower. Hightower is a beast and the most important player on the Patriots defense. Entering the off-season, in my opinion Hightower was the number one priority for the Pats. The linebacking core took a hit when the Pats reminded everyone of their prowess by sending away Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns. The Patriots proved that no matter the talent a player has, they don’t put up with bullshit, and that’s exactly how Collins was performing for them last season, ignoring play calls and roaming around the field looking lost. Have fun with that disaster of a organization Collins! With Collins being traded away, if the Pats lost Hightower in free agency, I would’ve lost my mind. Hightower has crazy talent, but his awareness and presence to find the ball is unreal. He’s in the upper-tier of linebackers in the NFL and the Patriots resigning him was huge. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that his strip-sack of Matt Ryan was the turning point of the Super Bowl.
Not only did the Pats resign Boomtower, they also further improved their group of linebackers by signing David Harris from the divisional rivals, New York Jets. It’ll be an awesome moment when Harris sacks whichever scrub the Jets throw out their at QB, whether it’s Hackenberg, McCown or Petty, and the crowd at Gillette breaks out in a J-E-T-S SUCK SUCK SUCK chant. Something noteable about Harris is that he’s played in 154 games over his 10-year career. Hightower has had injury issues throughout his career, playing a full 16 games just once. Harris brings consistency to the NE defense and that is something Matt Patricia will love with his defense.
Speaking of vulturing an impactful defensive player from a divisional rival, the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore to a 5-year, $65 million deal from the Buffalo Bills. With Logan Ryan departing in free agency, the acquisition of Gilmore now gives the Pats one of the premier cornerback duos in the league, pairing Gilmore with Malcolm Butler. I’m shocked Butler is still on this team after how much his name was being tossed around in trade rumors and how he deserved more money. But I love that he’s returning. He’s a top talent at the CB position and has been a fan favorite in Foxborough ever since the magical Super Bowl moment that still gives me chills every time I re-watch it (which is probably too often).
Gilmore will provide the Pats the ability to play man-to-man, which will be great because there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a zone coverage get picked apart. Gilmore also gives the secondary some size at 6’1″ to match up with taller receivers.
This secondary is going to be legit. Butler and Gilmore along with help over the top from Devin McCourty, one of the best safety’s in the NFL. The Pats also resigned Duron Harmon who played an important role all season as D Coordinator Matt Patricia subbed Harmon in and out with Patrick Chung. The two of them compliment each other so well as Chung is more of the run-stopper and Harmon better defending the pass.
With the linebackers looking dominant and the secondary looking like a shut-down unit, the question mark of this defense comes up front with the defensive line. The Pats lost three pass-rushers in the off-season with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving in free agency and Rob Ninkovich announcing his retirement. The Patriots will look to replace the pass-rushers they lost with Kony Ealy, who the Pats traded for from the Carolina Panthers and Lawrence Guy, who they signed to a 4-year deal which can max out to $20 million. A player to look for to fill the role of Nink is Shea McClellin. McClellin is capable of playing a hybrid linebacker/DE for the Patriots, which will be important for the outside of the defense.
Now to look at the interior of the defensive line. The Patriots are returning defensive tackles, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine. These guys are monsters who stuff the run in the middle of the line. Branch, the veteran of the line provided the Patriots with 26 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, all while clogging up the middle of the field playing great run-defense last season. The third-year player Brown, has appeared in all 16 games both seasons he’s played in the NFL. In 2016, Brown had 24 tackles, 3 sacks, a forced fumble and a safety. Then there’s Valentine who is coming off a solid rookie campaign. He appeared in 13 games for the Pats in his rookie year, starting in 2, with 11 tackles, adding 1 sack.
The defense will be very important to the Patriots success this season. There’s no doubt the offense will be capable of putting 35 points on the board every given week, no matter the opposing defense. The Patriots have always had the “bend, don’t break” mentality on defense, so they’ll never come close to leading the league in fewest yards allowed, I mean when they’re putting 35 points up, the other team will be throwing the ball most of the game and get garbage yards. So the Patriots defense does bend. However, they don’t break, as shown with their number one ranked points defense last year. The Patriots don’t give up touchdowns easy. They have no problem with scoring a touchdown then allowing 3 at the other end. Getting 7 and giving up 3 will still get them a win, pretty simple concept that they’ve adapted.
The Patriots are the reigning Super Bowl Champions and as much as the haters don’t want to see it, the talent of this team on paper has improved from last year. I don’t want to get into any undefeated talk here because as a fan, seeing the Patriots go undefeated would just stress me out. The Patriots enter the 2017-18 season as the favorite to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. Sorry Roger Goodell. Tom Brady will have to start wearing a ring on his other hand when he gets his 6th this year.