Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Analysis: Defensive Tackle Pass Rush

The doldrums are setting in on full blast, so it is time to take a closer look at what happened last season in the context of what the New England Patriots have done in the offseason. It’s time to take a look at some numbers from the 2012 season and have fun with them, but it is also time to reflect on those numbers going forward. To start off this “Stats Series” that looks behind the numbers, let’s start with a quick and easy look at the pass rush that the Patriots defensive tackles provided.

Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, and Brandon Deaderick were the three players to receive heavy snaps at DT, and only one of them remains on the team heading into the 2013 season. Both Deaderick and Love were recently released by the team, and both players now have homes with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While I will miss Love for his solid run defense, Deaderick’s cut was a long time coming. Neither of them provided any sort of pass rush (as you will see), and Deaderick was a poor player overall. He did receive more playing time down the stretch of the 2012 season, but more playing time doesn’t automatically equate to better quality.

It is obvious that the Patriots have made every effort to get more pass rush at the defensive tackle position, and both Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead are DTs who specialize in that facet. Last season, the Patriots got almost no pass rush up the middle, and they look in a better position to alleviate the pressure on the secondary by providing pass rushing ability at DT. When pressure comes from the interior, it collapses the pocket and affects quarterbacks more than pressure off the edge.

Armstead and Kelly will both inject pass rushing prowess to the Patriots defense on the inside, and that was something neither Love nor Deaderick could provide.

Just take a look at the numbers that include playoff games. In 13 games, Deaderick had just one sack and two hits on the quarterback, while Kyle Love had just one hit on the quarterback for a four-yard sack. Neither of them consistently brought pressure either, as both were clearly in the “red” in the Pro Football Focus’s grades for pass rushing.

Wilfork’s best asset is his run defense, as he is the big man in the middle who is amazing against the run and clogs up holes. However, he was actually decent as a pass rusher last season, mainly because he was able to use his size to swallow up blockers. But he also had four QB hits, three sacks, and even finished with a slightly positive grade in pass rushing per PFF.

And yet, therein lies the problem. If Wilfork was your best pass rushing defensive tackle, then you clearly had problems there. Both Love and Deaderick were abysmal as pass rushers, and it was clear to me that Deaderick was part of the problem. I don’t know why a few fans were surprised by his release, because he, quite frankly, stunk last season. The Patriots needed more pass rush up the middle of the defense, and they were able to get it in free agency by signing a rookie in Armstead and a veteran in Kelly; one of those guys is going to pan out and both help this team out.

I firmly believe the Patriots are going to sign another defensive tackle heading into training camp, and it is going to be a veteran like the two guys they recently worked out in Sedrick Ellis (formerly of the New Orleans Saints) and Spencer Johnson (formerly of the Buffalo Bills). A vet DT will make the roster as a backup if either UDFAs Joe Vellano or draft-snub Cory Grissom of USF don’t immediately pan out in training camp for the Patriots.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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Tags: Armond Armstead Brandon Deaderick Kyle Love New England Patriots Tommy Kelly Vince Wilfork

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