The New England Patriots began their run as the NFL’s ‘top dog’ with defense; now, two decades later, that’s what the Pats will pride themselves on again.
For years now, New England has been a team regarded as orienting offense-first. Having Tom Brady under center, it’s hard to argue against the merits of that philosophy. And yet, as head coach Bill Belichick always says, it takes all three phases of the game to build a championship team.
Early on at the beginning of their dynasty, New England featured an up-tempo, prepared, intimidating, in-your-face defense. It was the perfect mix of veteran leadership and young, hungry firepower. Players by the names of Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, Rosevelt Colvin, and Lawyer Milloy were seen, known, and respected across television sets from coast to coast.
Rodney Harrison, now a member of the Sunday Night Football crew on NBC, was just inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. He spoke glowingly about his experience in New England, and shared just how much appreciation he had for the organization and Bill Belichick, courtesy of NBC Sports Boston:
“What I loved about Coach Belichick, he kept it so real. When I came here, he gave me the freedom to play. Coach gave me the freedom to be me. He didn’t restrict me, and I appreciate you coach for that.”
Already a 9-year veteran by the time he donned the red, white, and blue in 2003, Harrison was voted a team captain in each of his six seasons in Foxboro. He was also the unquestioned vocal leader of the defense, and a fan favorite at that.
Now, 11 years removed from Harrison’s retirement from the game, the defense the Patriots prided themselves on to catapult into their original dynasty is back. This year’s squad has the potential to be the driving force to a seventh Super Bowl championship since the turn of the century.
Once again, there’s a fresh shot of youth in the front seven and a splash of veteran leadership in the secondary. The Patriots added Michael Bennett in the offseason to go with draft pick Chase Winovich; both players will join fresh talents Deatrich Wise Jr. and Derek Rivers up front.
Of course, linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whuan Bentley, and Elandon Roberts will be manning the middle… but it’s the secondary that may be the focal point of the entire defensive unit.
Jason and Devin McCourty are back for another season together. Patrick Chung, JC Jackson, Duron Harmon, and Jonathan Jones only further bolster the back end of the defense. This is all not even including Stephon Gilmore, who in 2018 led the entire NFL in passes defended and was one of the best corners in all of football.
In ’01, ’03, and ’04, New England had a top-6 scoring defense or better. Last season, they boasted the 7th-best scoring defense in the league. What do all those seasons have in common? They all resulted in Robert Kraft and the Patriots hoisting a Lombardi Trophy.
Will history repeat itself this year?
Well, it’s a little bit too early to tell. However, it’s never too early for a little speculation.
Sporting a better defense entering the 2019 season than 2018, it would make sense to be pretty excited if you’re a Patriots fan. Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels will keep things afloat on the offensive side of the ball. Although they may not be as explosive as years past – mainly as a result of a lack of pass-catching ability – the defense should at least relieve some of the weight on Brady’s shoulders.
Staying on the trend of play callers for just a minute, the loss of Brian Flores at the conclusion of 2018 left many waving the red flag of alarm since New England’s defensive coordinator spot was suddenly vacant with no obvious replacement. Bill Belichick has made it clear that he will be ‘more involved‘ with the defense this season; but even more eye-opening than that is the extensive involvement that former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo has had with the team early on in camp and in the preseason.
There’s no clear-cut plan for Mayo and where he fits into the organization. His official title is ‘inside linebackers coach,’ but is that really all he’s doing? Is he also being groomed for defensive coordinator? Is he calling defensive plays already?
It’s certainly a fascinating development and one that we’ll have to keep close tabs on as the preseason draws to a close.
There were some rough years throughout the Patriots dynasty with defensive depth and production, but 2019 is certainly not shaping up to be one of them. This edition looks to be like a well-oiled machine, top to bottom, with contributors around every corner that will be ready when called upon to wreck havoc against opposing offenses.
Who or what do YOU think will be the keys to the Patriots defense in 2019? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!