The New England Patriots defense finished 2015 looking like a championship caliber unit; however, as the 2016 season starts this Sunday night for the team, dominance could be a better choice of words.
Bill Belichick has slowly used countless draft picks to piece together what could be the best defense in football, and as always, their betting odds of another Super Bowl trip this year are in their favor.
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They are young at all three levels (DL,LB, and DB) which includes Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty in the defensive backfield and two Pro Bowlers at linebacker in Jamie Collins and Donta’ Hightower.
They also have a budding star on the defensive line in Malcolm Brown and the loss of pass rushing demon Chandler Jones shouldn’t be an issue with defensive end Jabaal Sheard ready to take up the slack.
Two late preseason acquisitions could push this defense into hyper drive with the addition of linebacker Barkevious Mingo (Browns) and cornerback Eric Rowe (Eagles).
Mingo,(6-4, 240) gives the Patriots a carbon copy of Collins and his high draft pedigree should come to fruition under one of the best defensive coordinators in Matt Patricia.
He showed his explosive potential in the preseason once coming over from Cleveland, forcing a QB fumble and displaying sideline to sideline speed, while adding a nice bite to an already staunch pass rush.
Rowe, (6′ 1, 205) has the position flexibility Belichick loves moving between cornerback and safety, which will give the secondary a bigger size defensive back to match up against tall wideouts and athletic tight ends in the same mold Aqib Talib was used when he was in town.
“(There are) a lot of things that we can do now that we wouldn’t have been able to do at this time last year with that group of players because we’ve done them for a year, or we did them in different game plan situations last year,” Belichick said, via Boston.com
“We just gotta be ready for whatever,” the rookie Jones said.
“Everybody knows what type of playmakers they have, but you just gotta focus on your responsibilities and trust the man next to you that he’s gonna do his job and let the chips fall where they may.”
With the expected growth of cornerback Malcolm Butler, the next player with a sizable upside is rookie Cyrus Jones. Coming out of the NFL factory named Alabama, Jones most likely will start the season as the team’s top slot corner, but with his pedigree of knowing the Patriots system, he could end up as the number two starter by years end.
McCourty also sees the potential of this unit:
“It helps as long as we play well. It doesn’t matter if we’re all back and we’re not playing well,” McCourty said.
“So I think for us personally it’s great. We have a great group. We like being around each other, spending time off the field bonding and learning how to play on the field together. It’s just grows.”
Going into preseason the Patriots needed another linebacker and a few cornerbacks to distinguish themselves, Mingo and Jones have shown the promise, while Rowe should be a welcome add on to an already very good secondary.