The Patriots' defensive line is loaded with talent, and the coaching staff will take advantage of that luxury by using a rotation to keep everyone fresh. With that in mind, the star-studded group of mashers won't have to worry about long defensive series or saving themselves for the fourth quarter.
They've been told to go hard every single play, and if they tire, they'll be subbed out for someone else with comparable talent.
"We have great depth," defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth said. "We have guys that can go to any other team and start. Like [defensive line coach Pepper Johnson] tells us, 'Go as hard as you can for however many plays. If that's three, four plays, do that, come out. We'll have somebody else send another wave of attack in.' So that's what we're going to do. I'm just going to play as hard as I possibly can. When I get gassed, I'm going to come out."
The Patriots are so stacked at the position that they had to cut Gerard Warren, who was their second best defensive lineman in 2010. Between Haynesworth, Vince Wilfork and Shaun Ellis, they've got seven Pro Bowls, two All-Pros and a Defensive Player of the Year Award.
The defensive line as a whole, which also includes Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Jermaine Cunningham (a defensive end in four-man fronts), Kyle Love, Myron Pryor and Mike Wright, has recorded 218 total career sacks.
"I'm happy I've got all those guys with me, I'll tell you that," Wilfork said. "Just being able to be on the same field and play on the same team as those guys is a pleasure. It's a pleasure."
The mass of bodies is beneficial for many reasons, most notably the ability for the linemen to stay fresh as they attack the quarterback. Offensive linemen will play every snap of the game unless they're injured, but the Pats' defensive linemen can afford to take a breather.
As Haynesworth noted, he drove the Giants' left guard into quarterback David Carr's face on the first play of the preseason finale — the outcome of the play was a fumble recovery for safety Patrick Chung — and then didn't see the field for two more series due to the depth. Haynesworth loved it.
"A guy that can go all out and doesn't have to worry about saving himself for anything because you can have another wave that goes in and takes the pressure to the quarterback just as well," he said. "I think that's awesome."
Plus, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick saw his group suffer a rash of injuries in 2010, forcing them to sign four defensive linemen to the active roster in December and January, including Eric Moore, Louis Leonard, Landon Cohen and Atiyyah Ellison.
When the proven sack masters are on their game, as they were against the Buccaneers in the second preseason contest, they'll open up holes for the linebackers. Jerod Mayo figures to benefit tremendously from the new-look defensive scheme, and his career sack total — 3.5 sacks in his first three seasons — will almost certainly double in 2011.
"Any time you have guys up front being disruptive, it's always going to help the linebackers out," Mayo said. "Anytime they demand the double team, it allows somebody to run free, and I think that's going to be vital for us."
On a deeper level, the increased level of pressure always forces quarterbacks to make quicker decisions, and in turn, the chance to make more mistakes. That can help Chung and cornerback Devin McCourty jump on some more passes and make plays in the secondary.
The returns on the defensive line depth will be vital Monday night in Miami's thick heat and humidity, too. After a cooler week than usual in New England, the Patriots will likely struggle to adjust to the climate, and that will make conditioning even more important.
The ability to stay as fresh as possible could wear on the Dolphins throughout the game, and it should be a sign of things to come throughout the 2011 season.
"I think it's going to help us out a lot," Anderson said. "Any time you have multiple guys that go out there and play your positions and do different things, it's always good to keep fresh legs and be able to play at a high level at all times."
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