FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots fans have long pined after a steady pass rush. They might be getting it in 2018 if the first two weeks of the preseason are any indication.
The Patriots aren’t just getting after the quarterback, they’re making big plays. Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn strip-sacked Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, leading to a 54-yard touchdown return by linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, in Thursday night’s 37-20 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Patriots had eight total sacks against the Eagles a week after they had three, including a strip-sack by rookie Trent Harris, in their preseason-opening win over the Washington Redskins.
Safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, defensive tackles Adam Butler and Vincent Valentine, defensive ends Keionta Davis, Trent Harris and Derek Rivers and Clayborn all had sacks Thursday night against the Eagles. Defensive ends Geneo Grissom and Eric Lee also brought the heat against Philly without recording sacks.
So, is anything different this year with linebackers coach Brian Flores now calling plays with former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia moving up in the ranks as head coach of the Detroit Lions? Former Patriots linebacker and NESN analyst Matt Chatham tweeted the play calls are the same.
Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower said earlier this summer that young players have picked up the defense quicker and easier. So, it’s possible the Patriots’ defense is, at least at this point in the summer, playing with less hesitation.
“The D-line (specifically) has a good grasp of the defense, and we’re playing fast,” Clayborn said.
So, what’s allowing them to play so fast?
“I don’t know,” Clayborn said. “Camp, and we’ve been doing it for three weeks now. I think we’re rolling, but it’s just a start.”
That was the message among Patriots pass rushers. That despite the success they had Thursday night, they’re not satisfied. It was echoed by head coach Bill Belichick.
“I thought we did some good things,” Belichick said. “There’s certainly some things we need to work on. It was far from perfect. We’ll take a look at the film, build on the positives and correct the things that need to be corrected.”
Still, the players did acknowledge the unit is playing fast this summer. Butler thinks it’s because the Patriots have a variety of different players in their front seven.
“And competitive atmosphere that we have in the locker room,” the second-year defensive tackle said.
The Patriots do have a variety of different players rushing the passer. Rivers is leaner and faster, Butler is bigger and more of an interior presence. Clayborn is stout and strong. And Wise has elite length.
That the Patriots were able to pile up so many sacks without starter Trey Flowers is even more of a positive sign. Flowers is by far the Patriots’ best pass rusher and uses his own length, strength, quickness and technique to get after the quarterback.
At this point in the preseason, it seems the Patriots will keep around nine defensive linemen in Flowers, Wise, Clayborn, Rivers, Davis, Butler, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown. Players like Harris, Lee and Grissom also are fighting for spots.
If the Patriots’ young edge defenders can live up to their potential, the pass rush could be dangerous this season. They’re definitely off to a hot start.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images