When the Patriots take the field for their season opener, Miami will be staring down one of the meanest defensive lines in recent history.
These Pats’ linebackers are the stuff of Popeye cartoon legends: bulging muscles popping out of shirts, wicked grins, narrowed eyes, and so much assured swagger that the players might as well have smoking corncob pipes sticking out of the side of their mouths.
They stand, taunting and immovable, as if to say, go ahead, try to get past us. The underlying connotation being, you won’t.
But first: throw that 7-9 record in the trash, drive the bin to the nearest New England landfill and dump it in the pile of the other forgettable seasons.
Last year, the Pats struggled to get very many quarterback sacks; the pass-rushers just couldn’t handle the heat. They ranked 26th in defense against the run last season and 27th in red zone touchdown percentage allowed.
Now, sack-expert Judon joins the returning Kyle Van Noy and fellow free-agent addition Raekwon McMillan to round out New England’s suddenly stacked linebacker group. Other noteworthies: Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Anfernee Jennings all remain on the roster, along with Dont’a Hightower coming back from an opted-out 2020 season.
Could this group be the best pass-rush corps in the 2021 season?
The answer hinges on Judon, who neither “makes” nor “breaks” the defense. He changes it, elevates it, and transforms the linebacker group into a different beast altogether.
Matt Judon will anchor a revolutionary New England Patriots linebacker group this season.
Before arriving to the Brady-less, washed up shores of New England, Judon spent five years (a combined 80 regular season and playoff games) with the Baltimore Ravens. At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, he was deployed mainly as an outside linebacker on the line of scrimmage, but his size also let him play an off-the-ball role in the box.
Wherever he played, he wreaked havoc. In all five seasons, he posted double digit quarterback hits, and not counting his rookie season, he got more than five sacks every year. The guy has an uncanny laser-focused ability to target the main man, and rewatching his old reels will give any quarterback the jitters.
Judon has the potential to be either a traditional or hybrid linebacker for the Pats, and his move to New England marks a new defensive era with a rebuilt front seven. And knock on wood, Judon will stay healthy for the whole season. He only missed a total of four regular season games on the Ravens, and two of his absences came in 2020, when he was on the COVID-19 list.
He recently spoke to the Boston Globe about what it’ll take to reach the next level:
"“You’ve got to execute the game plan… And you’ve got to know where your help’s coming from and you’ve got to know the type of leverage and support you have,” Judon said. “If you want to be a runner, a ball carrier, you’ll get hit like a ball carrier. Stay in the pocket and you just have a little more protection. So, you just have to know who you’re dealing with, what you’re dealing with, and try to prevent that as much as possible.”"
For a player who’s recorded 34.5 career sacks in 76 games with 49 starts, Judon knows what he’s talking about. According to Pro Football Focus, Judon’s 2020 pass-rushing performance would have been second on the Patriots behind only Winovich.
You can bet Judon’s just plain giddy getting ready to face good ol’ Tom Brady this season. Judon and the Pats will play against several other big-name quarterbacks, including six games against AFC East foes that feature mobile signal-callers. The Pats ranked 27th in sacks last season, but with Judon’s instincts, New England is much better equipped to control and defend dual threats.
He shared some pretty lofty goals for his Pats career, too, that will bring newfound hope and corny inspiration to fans. When was the last time you were this excited about defense?
"“I’ll always want a chance to win,” Judon told the Boston Globe. “Championships, divisional championships, Pro Bowl, Super Bowl. I just want to win. I want to continue to add to my legacy and also add to the legacy that the Patriots have.”"
So Judon’s got his heart and mind set already. If he can lead the Pats to a return to the playoffs this season, New England just might need a new form of currency. The Brady stock is out. The Bill coin is gradually losing value.
But in Judon we trust.