One of the biggest problems from the 2013 season was the lack of consistent pass rush that Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich brought to the table. This wasn’t entirely their fault, as they were forced to play over 95% of the defensive snaps, but the bottom line is, the Pats struggled to bring constant pressure on the opposing quarterback.
I think this will be different in 2014 for three reasons. The first, is the talent now in the middle of New England’s defensive line. Vince Wilfork is back, as is Tommy Kelly. And Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones both gained valuable experience last year. However the biggest acquisition came in the draft, where the Patriots selected Dominique Easley in the first round. Having a strong pass rushing presence in the middle instantly makes your entire pass defense better, and that is what I think the Pats will have next year.
The second reason the Patriots pass rush will be better next year, is the addition of veteran pass rusher Will Smith. Yes, Smith is getting up there in age (32), and he is coming off a major knee injury, which forced him to miss the entire 2013 season. But Smith has proven that he can be a good edge rusher in this league, and that is exactly what the Pats need. If Smith can come in and give Ninkovich and Jones decent rest time, and be productive at the same time, this will allow the starting duo to perform better, and if Smith turns back the clock, he could end up with a decent year as well.
And finally, the last reason I have, is the simple development of one Chandler Jones. Obviously I don’t know if Jones will definitely improve this year, but based off of what we have seen in the past, I think we will see a new and improved version of him in 2014. He went from playing in 14 games in 2012, to 16 in 2013. And improved his sack number by five and a half in those two years. So if you are going off of past production, I think Jones will improve even more in the coming months. He needs to add a few more pass rushing moves to his arsenal, to go along with his natural athletic skill-set. If he does that, he will become unstoppable.
An additional thing that will certainly help this group improve, is the new Pats secondary. By adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, New England may have the best secondary in all of football. When you have a group of guys that can cover well, and make the quarterback hold the football longer, it gives the big boys up front time to make a move, and apply pressure.
When it is all said and done, I have a feeling that as a group, this 2014 Pats defense will blow people away next year. They have the secondary, they have the linebackers (although depth is an issue there), and they have the necessary skills in the trenches. Chandler Jones and company will have to prove that they can hold up their end of the bargain, but if they do, Peyton Manning‘s bunch in Denver better watch out.