Patriots’ 2009 Report Card: Defense Struggled Without Veteran Leadership

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Patriots' 2009 Report Card: Defense Struggled Without Veteran Leadership Now that the New England Patriots? 2009 season is officially over, it?s time to hand out the grades. Check out below to see who on the defense will be hanging their report cards on the refrigerator and who will be forging their parents? signatures.

Earlier, NESN.com graded the Patriots? offense. Make sure to come back to see the grades for the special teams, coaching staff and front office.

DEFENSE: B-

Defensive line: B
Vince Wilfork had one of his best — if not the best — seasons in New England and carried the line when he was in the lineup. Wilfork was a force on the interior, but he also took on a different role by moving to the edge and creating pressure from the outside. While the Patriots weren?t the same without Richard Seymour, they still got some good seasons out of Ty Warren and Mike Wright, but they probably hoped for a little more out of Jarvis Green, Derrick Burgess and second-round pick Ron Brace.

Linebackers: C
Jerod Mayo
suffered a knee injury in the season opener and missed the next three games. Give him credit for fighting to get back earlier than expected, but his performance dropped off from his amazing rookie year until he got healthier later in 2009. Gary Guyton, an undrafted free agent in 2008, continued to develop and played his best football when Mayo went down, but he wasn?t always strong against the run. That led to more reps from Junior Seau. And then there was Tully Banta-Cain, who had his best season in the NFL during his second stint in New England. Banta-Cain was the Patriots? only good pass rusher all season, recording 9.5 sacks, which was nearly one-third of the team?s total production.

When the Patriots traded Mike Vrabel last offseason, they probably only figured to have one hole on the outside, but Adalius Thomas proved to be another. It?s uncertain whether the coaching staff didn?t properly utilize Thomas or the $35 million man simply didn?t produce up to his capabilities, but it?s likely a combination of both. Thomas wasn?t right for this system, and it doesn?t set a good example for the younger players when a high-profile, big-money player underperforms and speaks out against the coach.

Secondary: B
The secondary got a bad rap for the way other quarterbacks shredded New England?s defense at times this season, but the inability to pressure the quarterback deserves most of the blame for that one. Anyway, cornerback Leigh Bodden had a very consistent season and was the best corner the Patriots have had since Asante Samuel left for Philadelphia. Shawn Springs and Darius Butler did a good job filling in on the other side, but Jonathan Wilhite never got to the level he was at as a rookie.

There was also some good depth at safety, and Brandon Meriweather made another step toward stardom with his progression. Meriweather had one stretch in the middle of the season when his breakdowns led to some long gains, but for the most part, he was a real playmaker as a big hitter and pass defender. The other safety spot was a bit of a toss-up, as Brandon McGowan started the year on a bright note but lost his job to James Sanders, who helped the Patriots play smarter football with better communication. Rookie Pat Chung had a sporadic role, mostly lining up in the slot, but he displayed a playmaking ability that should provide optimism down the road.

Tune in to SportsDesk after the Bruins-Sharks game on Thursday night to get Ted Johnson's grades on the 2009 Patriots.

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