Patriots’ Defense Focused on Generating More Quarterback Pressure


Patriots' Defense Focused on Generating More Quarterback Pressure FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For a defense, applying pressure on the quarterback is an imperfect science. The variables are endless, and the complications can prove hazardous if not flawlessly executed.

It?s not just about guessing correctly or recklessly sending a small army of linebackers and defensive backs toward the quarterback. There is a chess-game element involved, but it also helps to have talented edge rushers and lockdown cornerbacks.

Since there isn?t a team on the planet that can boast an elite brand in all of those areas, there will always be a gamble involved with selling out to attack an opponent?s passing game.

?It?s about getting pressure on the passer and taking care of your responsibilities first,? New England Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. ?There?s a time and a place for everything. If it calls for us to penetrate and get in the backfield, then that?s what we?ll do.?

The Patriots are focused on generating more quarterback pressure this season. They were ranked 14th in the NFL last season with 31 sacks, although head coach Bill Belichick believes that is an overrated statistic. While there is some merit to that notion, the Patriots only forced 14 interceptions in 2008, which was 25th in the league.

?The goal of any defense is to get the ball back to your offense,? said outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, a pass-rushing specialist who recorded a sack in the Patriots? preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles last week. ?When the corners or the secondary are getting good coverage and allowing the guys up front to get to the quarterback, that describes team football right there because one can?t work without the other. The goal is to get the ball to the offense and to stay off the field as much as possible.?

Clearly, the Patriots were hindered last season by a thin secondary that couldn?t stay in coverage long enough to force quarterbacks to hold the ball for an extended period of time. That figures to be an improved area in 2009 with the additions of cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden.

It?s obviously not just on the secondary, though. Seymour said a major part of generating a pass rush starts with the rush defense on first and second downs. If the Patriots can?t force opposing offenses into third-and-long situations, they can?t pin their ears back and dive bomb the quarterback. In 2008, the Patriots were 15th in rushing yards allowed (1,722 total, 107.6 per game) and rushing yards per attempt (4.1). For instance, the Minnesota Vikings had the best rush defense in the NFL, and they were fourth with 45 sacks.

The Patriots? acquisition of Derrick Burgess should improve the pass rush. Burgess — a two-time Pro Bowler who can play defensive end or outside linebacker — registered 35 total sacks from 2005-07, including a league-high 16 in 2005.

?Derrick has been in this league for a while,? Seymour said. ?He?s had some great seasons in the past. He?s come here willing to work, and we see his talent on the field and watching film of his pass-rushing ability. He?s definitely a good guy to have in the locker room, a guy who has been there and done that.?

In the end, though, it?s not just about one guy, one situation or one area of the field. The Patriots have to minimize their opponents? yardage on first and second down to create a definite passing situation on third down. After all, the Patriots? defense only halted 55.6 percent of third-down plays last season, which tied them for 26th in the league.

Disrupting the quarterback is a lengthy process that goes far deeper than one play. As it stands, the Patriots appear well aware of how they can improve upon last season?s numbers.

?Obviously, our job on defense is to get the guy with the ball,? said Seymour, who tied a career high with eight sacks last season. ?We?re doing everything we can to put ourselves in position to stop the run and rush the passer. I think if you want to rush the passer in this league, you?ve got to be able to stop the run first or you?ll never have the opportunity.?

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