The New England Patriots defense, viewed as the worst in the league last season and the most cause for concern by the fans this offseason is not in as bad of a shape as it looks. The Patriots defense was hit with the injury bug harder than nearly every team in the NFL losing Dont’a Hightower, Dereck Rivers, Shea McClellin, Cyrus Jones, and Vincent Valentine put this team in a rough situation. The Patriots Front 7 was clearly in the bottom half of the league forcing only 18 turnovers all year and giving up 5,856 yards on the year. Over the first 6 weeks, the Patriots only held opposing Quarterbacks to under 300 yards once (rookie Deshaun Watson) and gave up 159 points. With breakout players like new comers Stephon Gilmore, Eric Lee, and Marquis Flowers, the Patriots were able to bounce back and overcome their issues. The 2014 motto “Bend Don’t Break” came back into full swing, and while still giving up large chunks of yards, points were a rarity for opposing teams. Until the Super Bowl in fact, the Patriots had the 2nd best scoring defense in the league. The issue with the Patriots defense was shot plays, there simply wasn’t enough pressure from the front 7 which gave receivers time to get open and force the Patriots into a bad spot. This issue is only relevant because of the injury bug, and in the offseason, Bill Belichick went out and made this front even better. Adding Danny Shelton to replace an aging Alan Branch (who didn’t touch the field in the playoffs) could be a game changer this season. The 335lb run stuffing Nose Guard will plug up the inside run game alongside Malcolm Brown and returning Vincent Valentine and force the back to the outside. The back will then meet a combination of the Patriots versatile edge rushers Trey Flowers, Marquis Flowers, and returning Dereck Rivers. Not to mention if the Patriots are able to resign James Harrison, they could have one of the best run defenses in the league. The linebacker situation is also due for a major improvement this season. With a returning Dont’a Hightower being placed next to a now experienced Kyle Van Noy, there is a great combination of blitzing and coverage. Not to mention having Shea McClellin, Eric Lee, and Elandon Roberts, there is no true issue with this linebacker group. The one hole in the defense is the CB2 spot. With a departing Malcolm Butler, it is crucial the Patriots draft and develop a cornerback to keep around for a while next to Stephon Gilmore, who had a stellar second half of the season. Personally, I would like to see Tavarus McFadden out of FSU or Christian Campbell out of PSU as the number 2 corner this upcoming season. Both have great potential and are good builds for a 2nd corner spot. By addressing this one issue through the draft or trade, the New England Patriots with no injuries on defense could end up with an elite tier defense in 2018.
Photo: Sporting News