Patriots defense grading well despite endless injuries

Devin McCourty Aqib Talib Chandler Jones
Devin McCourty, Aqib Talib and Chandler Jones held the Broncos to just seven points in the second half in November. Credit: Getty Images

The Patriots have been graded on a higher scale than the rest of the NFL due to their success in the early part of the 2000s.

For proof, take into account that Bill Belichick fielded a question at his weekly press conference at Gillette Stadium Wednesday that began with, “Bill, it’s been nearly 10 years since you won the Super Bowl.” There aren’t any other head coaches in the league, possibly in all of sports, who have to deal with such prefaces. Despite Belichick’s Pats posting a fabulous regular season mark of 110-34 since 2005, easily the best in the NFL during that frame, New England is certainly close to becoming the 1990s Atlanta Braves in the eyes of their critics.

So why have the Patriots seemingly lost their chutzpah in the postseason? The answer has a lot to do with what has long been considered a strength of any Belichick-coached team: the defense. In the playoffs of 2005, 2006 and 2007, the Rodney Harrison-Tedy Bruschi-Richard Seymour –led defenses appeared to simply be old. The 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 defensive units could best be labeled as transition groups, as a rotating cast of characters like Albert Haynesworth, Darius Butler, Patrick Chung, Adalius Thomas, Leigh Bodden, Brandon Meriweather, Jonathan Wilhite and Kyle Love never stuck.

But at the start of the 2013 season, Belichick appeared to have his most stacked defensive unit since the championship days of 2003 and 2004. Vince Wilfork would be the anchor up front. Jerod Mayo would lead the linebackers. And Aqib Talib would be the shutdown corner the team had lacked since Ty Law, or at least Asante Samuel, was running around in the backfield.
The blueprint we saw in late August quickly had to be scrapped, however. Wilfork went down with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in Week 4 in Atlanta. Mayo shredded a pec muscle in a Week 6 win over the Saints. And Talib looked hobbled for the second half of the regular season.


As it stands now, though, the 2013 Pats defense has proven to be one of the more resilient groups of Belichick’s 14-year run in Foxboro, highlighted by last Saturday’s four interception night against the NFL’s next big thing, Andrew Luck. Alfonzo Dennard picked off Luck twice, linebacker Dont’a Hightower grabbed one Luck throw and rookie linebacker Jamie Collins had his breakout performance while intercepting the Colts QB early in the fourth quarter, all but ending Indy’s hopes for a comeback.

“If you just watch, (Collins) has been getting better week-by-week,” safety Devin McCourty told the AP. “I think he has a lot more big games in him and we’ve just got to keep it rolling.”

McCourty, a 2010 first round pick out of Rutgers, has regained the high level of play he displayed in his rookie campaign and has become the Pats most reliable force in the secondary. Fellow Rutgers defensive backs Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon have also had their moments this season, with Talib, corner Kyle Arrington and safety Steve Gregory also coming up big throughout the season.

Not so surprisingly, the big pants left behind by Wilfork have been the toughest to fill, but tackles Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga have drawn enough attention for defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich to shine.

Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Train selfie star who got kicked in the…

  A 22-year-old Canadian man who posted a video of himself getting kicked in the head by a train conductor is set to cash in…

National

Call of Duty hoaxer blamed for $100K SWAT…

A heavilly-armed SWAT team and an army of police officers stormed a Long Island home fearing a grisly double homicide – only to find it…

National

Minnie Driver tweets naked celebrity snap to 'shut…

Actress Minnie Driver has responded to bitchy critics who sniped about her bikini body by Tweeting a naked picture of herself. The 44-year-old star of…

National

American middle classes no longer world's richest (guess…

America's middle classes are no longer the richest in the world – having been overtaken in the wealth stakes by their Canadian counterparts. For almost…

Television

John Turturro tags in for Robert De Niro…

The cast of the courtroom drama miniseries has undergone yet another shift. Following Robert De Niro's exit, the cable network has brought in John Turturro…

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, April 22: 'Glee,' 'Agents…

'Glee' Rachel makes her Broadway debut in "Funny Girl." Remember when she was just a high school drama nerd? FOX, 8PM 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'…

The Word

Lindsay Lohan's big, drunk interview

Lindsay Lohan appears to be completely off the wagon now, if Kode magazine's chronicle of her trip to Coachella is any indication. According to the…

The Word

What we learned from the premiere of 'True…

Does watching someone's marriage implode make for great TV? The show runners at "True Tori" think Tori Spelling's heartbreak is hot stuff indeed.

NBA

Nets settle for 1-1 series tie with Game…

DeMar DeRozan, who was an All-Star this season, hit two huge jumpers back-to-back to give the Raptors an 89-85 lead over the Nets with 2:10 to play.

NHL

Rangers reclaim home ice with Game 3 road…

The Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the first period for the second straight game. This time, they held on.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: Brewers best in baseball, Dodgers,…

MLB Power Rankings: Brewers best in baseball, Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees surge. The A's, Braves, Rangers, Giants and Rockies are also in the top 10.

NBA

Jason Kidd reacts to Mike Woodson being fired…

Jason Kidd played for Mike Woodson last year and Joe Johnson spent four seasons being the main focus on offense for Woodson in Atlanta.

Wellbeing

How to burn off all that Easter candy

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but you can't eat chocolate eggs and Jelly Bellys forever.

Food

Powdered alcohol: 5 things to know about 'Palcohol'

What's the deal with powdered alcohol? Here's what you need to know about Palcohol.

Travel

Travel hacks: 6 tips on living out of…

Lynne Martin shares her travel hacks on living out of just two suitcases.

Wellbeing

Tough Mudder pro gives tips on conquering a…

Learn hacks from head designer Nolan Kombol.