The last time anyone saw the New England Patriots defense play in a real game was last January in a playoff game in Buffalo. Unfortunately for New England fans, the Bills completely eviscerated that unit, which was largely unexpected for a Bill Belichick coached team in the playoffs. Despite the playoff collapse, the Patriots’ defense was largely a strength during the 2021 regular season, and will be relied upon for similar production this year.
The 3-4 defense has long been a staple of Bill Belichick’s scheme, and should continue to be the primary base defense again in 2022. In that setup, defensive linemen are usually most valuable when they absorb blockers and help clog up running lanes. Second year defensive end Christian Barmore will be the main player to watch up front, as former second round pick figures to be a mainstay of the line for years to come.
Fellow linemen Deatrich Wise and Davon Godchaux have been playing in Belichick defensive systems for years, and should largely find themselves in the right place at the right time.
If the defensive linemen are doing the dirty work up front in a 3-4 setup, then it is incumbent on the linebackers to cover as much ground as possible to finish off plays. In his first season with New England last year, Matt Judon did just that, often times short-circuiting plays in the backfield. He led the team with 12.5 sacks, and posted 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. While the Patriots were statistically a solid unit last year, they were only in the middle of the pack in getting pressure on the quarterback, so Judon’s pass rushing skills will be needed once again.
The rest of New England’s linebackers are very young, and Belichick will hope that at least one of them can step up. Josh Uche, Mack Wilson and Ja’Whaun Bentley highlight the group that will look to mature and take a step forward in 2022.
The Patriots had one of the premier secondaries in the NFL in recent seasons, and cornerback J.C. Jackson was a major reason why. He picked off 22 passes in the last three seasons for the Patriots, and was always able to make a play on the ball even when quarterbacks knew how dangerous he was. New England elected not to bring Jackson back due to his hefty price tag as he signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. The Patriots will instead try to retool with some familiar faces.
Devin McCourty will be 35 years old before the regular season begins, but will continue to anchor the back of the Patriots defense. Interestingly, the franchise also brought in cornerback Malcolm Butler, who spent the first four years of his career with New England. Of course, Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass to seal Super Bowl XLIX. He was also infamously benched during New England’s Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Veterans Jalen Mills and Kyle Dugger should round out an experienced secondary.