Forget the calendar. The real 2017 has finally arrived. the first game of our 2017 NFL season left a lot to be desired. But hey, just one game, and we all know the outcome of seasons with the same disappointing start. Here’s a quick analysis of the defense and what we need to do to be successful in the weeks to come.
Defense Wins Championships
One of the most overused phrases in team sports, but sadly it is quite true. Unless you have a perfect offense (we are close to that but ?), your defense has to play a key role in winning games. Big plays on defense can change a game’s momentum, and turn around what looked like a lost cause (remember Hightower in the SB?).
In my opinion, our greatest defensive strength is the defensive backfield. At corner back, we have Gilmore and Malcolm Butler who would rank in the top three CB pairs in the entire NFL. Having such dominant players at CB usually should help take away opponents’ best wide receivers and throw off their offensive game plan. If the opponents can get around the “Velcro twins” of Butler and Gilmore then they have to deal with our safeties. The hard hitting duo of Chung and McCourty back there can make WRs hesitate for a moment before stretching out for that long pass.
When Coach Patricia goes to the nickel package, he has the freedom of bringing in players like Duron Harmon and Eric Rowe, both better than many teams’ starting defensive backs. Having depth in this area is never a bad thing, especially against a team that likes a vertical passing game. I feel that these guys don’t get enough credit because they are not as flashy as some other defensive backs in the NFL. Flashy is just that, and I will take effective and not flashy any day at all.
The defense could go either way here. This could be a strength of the team when all of the players play a solid “do-your- job” kind of game. But this part of the defense suffers with injuries to players like McClellin and Roberts, notably. The linebacker corp has seen an infusion of new guys like David Harris, formerly of the Jets (bet he thinks he won the lottery getting out of that mess) and Marquis Flowers. The stalwart of the linebacker corp remains — who else — the monster Dont’a Hightower, listed at 6 ft 3 and 265 lbs and can run like he is being chased by a grizzly. Hightower will get this group to focus on the job at hand and act as the QB of the defense, as he has for a number of years. This might not be the only job that Hightower has this season, and I will mention more on this shortly.
Having such a diverse group of “hybrid” LBs allows Coaches Patricia and Belichick to have the defensive players needed to handle almost anyone’s offense. These types of players can really cover more than just their own position and give an opposing offensive coordinator a few sleepless nights.
This is where the big boys hang out, and the Patriots have a couple of players that give the scale a good workout. Start with the underrated Alan Branch, 6 ft 6 and 360 lbs (I think that he might not have had both feet on the scale there) and Trey Flowers. Both of these players are great and can disrupt an opposing offence quite easily. They may not get Von Miller or Aaron Donald-like sack numbers, but there is more to playing defense than getting “numbers.” Throw in newly acquired Cassius Marsh, formerly of the Seahawks, and that gives the Pats a formidable threesome. Do not forget that we also have players like Malcolm Brown who continues to improve as has behemoth Vincent Valentine.
The defensive line may not be our strength on defense, but we do have some very good players who “do their job” very well. They are not the flashy types of players like Donald or Miller, but I will take quiet and effective anytime. The only thing that matters is the score at the end of the game and not personal numbers.
My Radical Defensive Strategy
My off-the-wall thought for this year’s defense may seem a bit radical radical. Blame Andy Lykins, my BostonSportsExtra colleague, who brought it to my attention. With the unexpected retirement of Rob Ninkovich, would it be a crazy idea to insert Dont’a Hightower into Nink’s former role? Hightower is big enough, fast enough, and just ask Matt Ryan if he can get to the QB if he is let loose. This may require inserting David Harris possibly as the starting middle LB. Not a stretch in my opinion. This may seem like a radical departure from what Patriot fans are used to, but I think it could work very well.
The only thing that matters right now is that we get this season on track. Enough of the talk, let’s play some football. Let’s Go Patriots. Check out the 2017 Patriots roster at www.patriots.com Check out other great Patriots articles at www.BostonSportsExtra.com