After Vince Wilfork went down with an Achilles injury in Atlanta, we knew that the Patriots run defense would struggle. In the four games since Wilfork went down, the Patriots have give up an average of 156.5 rushing yards a game. Anybody can see that those numbers are terrible, and it was obvious that they were in need of some help. Well they may have gotten exactly what they needed yesterday, as the Patriots traded for defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, just before the 4 P.M trade deadline hit. I have not looked at much tape of Sopoaga, but just based on reputation, and statistics, I think that he will make a positive impact on this defense.
Before this trade unfolded, the Patriots had been playing rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones at the two defensive tackle positions. For two rookies, they have played pretty well, but giving up 156 yards a game on the ground is not acceptable. By bringing in Sopoaga, you get a guy that can take up a lot of blockers, opening up areas for the backers to come in and make the play (much like Wilfork did). This will also allow the Patriots to start him alongside veteran Tommy Kelly, when Kelly returns from a knee injury he suffered in Cincinnati. Kelly is a big improvement over both Vellano and Jones, and the combination of him and Sopoaga in the middle could be very tough for opposing defenses to run against. Now, Sopoaga is really not a true defensive tackle, as his natural position would be playing at the nose. This would require New England to play more 3-4 looks, which is probably fine with Belichick, given the injuries to Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. A defensive front of Sopoaga, Kelly, and Chandler Jones is actually a solid group, and when you combine that with Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower as the two inside linebackers, the Pats run defense may end up being a stout unit by the end of the year.
Another positive for the Patriots, is now that Sopoaga is in the fold, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones can get some much needed rest, allowing them to be fresh and ready to go when they enter the game. These two have had to play damn near every snap in the base defense over the last couple of games, and that will tire out anybody. Keeping them fresh will significantly improve their level of play, giving the Pats defense a better chance of holding up against the run. It also will allow Jones to come in on passing situations, as Sopoaga is not a good pass rusher, and in his past stints in San Francisco and Philadelphia, he was always taken out of the game in passing situations. However Chris Jones is a good pass rusher, as he has totaled 4.5 sacks in five games played here in 2013. He has some solid quickness and explosion off the line (for a 300 pounder), and offensive guards frequently are seen having a difficult time with him.
The Patriots play the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, and this presents a solid opportunity for Sopoaga to get the defensive schemes down, because the Steel men currently rank 30th in the NFL in rushing yards. I am confident that we will see some positive results from this unit, and hopefully it will continue into the future.