Over the next couple of days, Musket Fire will be running an end of year, ‘report card’ feature, that will give a final grade to each positional group for the 2013 season. Up next is the defensive line.
Final Grade: B-
It was a horrible year for this group in terms of injuries, as their two starting defensive tackles, Vince Wilfork, and Tommy Kelly, both sustained season ending injuries towards the beginning of the year. This forced a lot of inexperienced players into game action, which was the main reason why New England finished 30th in the league in run defense.
With that being said, considering the circumstances, I thought the new guys filled in decently, especially considering the kind of talent they had. Joe Vellano and Chris Jones started for the Pats when Wilfork and Kelly initially went down, and eventually it seemed like they were getting the hang of life in the middle of an NFL defense. Jones finished the year with six sacks, and it was evident throughout the season that his quickness as an interior lineman would give opposing offensive guards trouble in pass protection. Vellano was more of a run stopper, although at the end of the year he lost his spot to Sealver Siliga, who in my opinion was the most effective of the three young defensive lineman.
When it was all said and done, these three guys didn’t play too bad this past season, and one big positive the Pats get out of Wilfork and Kelly missing most of the season, is they now have some solid depth in Jones, Vellano, and Siliga (assuming the starters can stay healthy in 2014).
Now on to the pass rushers. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones both had good campaigns, although they did disappear in the biggest moment back in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots finished 2013 ranked fifth in the league sacks, which was better than the Super Bowl bound Seattle Seahawks. Jones led the charge with 11.5 sacks, and Ninkovich helped out with eight of his own. It is obvious that Jones has a lot of potential as a pass rusher, and if he can develop a few more moves to his arsenal, I think he could become a dominant force in this league. As for Ninkovich, he is a great run defender, and he is a good pass rusher, but I don’t see the “game breaking” talent in his ability to get to the quarterback. Having a guy that can beat any offensive tackle is a must in today’s NFL, and it is something New England lacks. I am not saying they should get rid of Ninkovich, because he is one of the best players on this team, but the Pats would be wise to look into getting a pass rushing specialist, that could come in on third downs in key situations. One last guy I want to mention, is Andre Carter. Carter was signed back in October, and even though he didn’t rack up the sacks, I thought he played very well as a sub-package pass rusher. I doubt he will be back for next season, but it was great having him back in New England, as his presence on the field definitely helped them take advantage of some matchups throughout the year.