Are the Patriots concerned about Matthew Judon’s consistency?
The Patriots’ defense has been the more dominant side of the team for the second year this season, but as they come off their bye, the focus will remain on them for a bit of a different reason.
Although the story was similar throughout the 2021 season, the offense wasn’t as reliant on the defense to keep them in games as they have been this year. At their bye in week 14, New England was on a seven-game win streak, putting them back into the mix for the playoffs after falling to 2-4 to start the year. Mac Jones was putting on a historical performance by a rookie, looking to be exactly what the Patriots needed out of a quarterback. And the defense was led by their record breaker, Matthew Judon, who became nearly entirely responsible for any positive play for the entire group.
But that’s when it all seemingly fell apart.
Outside of the offensive issues, the defense appeared to be M.I.A. over the next four games. Several game-altering stats that had been key to the team’s success changed drastically from weeks seven to thirteen. Before the bye, the defense allowed an average of 10 PPG. That doubled through the last four weeks of the season, increasing to 25.75 PPG. On top of that, yards allowed per game were up, and the pass rush became nearly nonexistent, mainly as it predominately fell on the shoulders of Judon himself.
Despite earning a wildcard spot in the playoffs, the Patriots went 1-3 to end the regular season. And most would prefer to forget their post-season game against the Bills. As they find themselves in a similar situation during their week ten bye, a lot of focus will be on how the defense can remain consistent to avoid the same fate as last season. And much of that depends on the workload given to Judon the rest of the way.
Now in his second season with the team, Judon is again producing a record-setting season that has put him into the DPOY conversation. He leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks of the 22 team total and has become a key mentor for the Patriots’ young defense. That leadership has been beneficial to the team overall and the players he has helped while also allowing Judon to remain far more off the field than last season.
The pass rush has been menacing with the rise of Deatrich Wise and Josh Uche, who account for 9.5 sacks combined, and the emergence of Anfernee Jennings has given the coaches the comfort needed not to overwork Judon throughout the next several weeks. They appear to be aware of that as a leading cause for his drop-off last year and have already made a conscious effort to reduce his time on the field through the first nine games. At this point last year, he had been on the field for 85.4% of defensive snaps; compared to this season, his snap count has dropped to 74% through the first half of the year.
Knowing the group fell apart at the end of last season, coaches and Judon himself are preparing for better performance and outcome this year. Linebackers coach Jerod Mayo spoke highly of Judon and his confidence in him, especially noting how he prepares leading up to games this season.
"“The way he just approaches each and every day is different than it was last year. Not saying last year was bad. But when you talk about just a great professional, and also a guy who is always helping the younger guys — he’s always trying to bring guys along with him, whether it’s extra conditioning, extra film; so just his approach to the process has been different. It’s been very impactful for him and the team.”"
The leadership role comes naturally for Judon, and his help to his teammates has appeared to make quite an impact. The defense is more consistently able to make plays without Judon’s involvement, allowing him not to exhaust himself in each and every game.
Belichick mentioned that when speaking to reporters last week, saying the team has a deep defensive roster that gives them the ability of a great rotation that “keeps everybody involved [and] fresh.”
As far as Judon’s performance in his second year? Coaches are not showing any concern despite his production tailing off last season. Steve Belichick spoke highly of the linebacker’s work ethic and the improvements he’s already made, although not necessarily needed, throughout the season.
"“He’s probably more comfortable in the scheme and the calls, and the verbiage and terminology and language we speak here. From my perspective, he’s kind of mentally taken the next step there.”"
There is still a lot of season left, but the defense is more than capable of performing at a high level throughout it, with Judon leading the way. A tough schedule remains with the Patriots now in control of their fate. After the week ten results, they are only one game back in the division and secured the 7th seed in the playoffs with a Chargers loss on Monday night.
Will they repeat their success of 2021? Can they be even better than last season? We’ll get those answers over the next eight weeks.