Matthew Judon Leading Pro Bowl Vote; Can He Avoid December Dropoff?

'I feel pretty good right now'

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November 29, 2022

The NFL released its first batch of Pro Bowl voting totals Monday, and one New England Patriots player sits atop his respective position group.

Matthew Judon led all AFC outside linebackers in fan votes with 61,617, with the Dallas Cowboys’ Micah Parsons pacing the NFC with 63,612.

Judon’s prominent place in those rankings is no surprise. A Pro Bowler in each of the last three seasons, he’s in the midst of a career campaign, already setting a career high in sacks with 13 with six games still to play. The 30-year-old leads the NFL in that category — Parsons is second with 12 — and ranks third in quarterback hits (23), tied for eighth in tackles for loss (11) and fifth in total pressures (50), as tallied by Pro Football Focus.

The 30-year-old has been the best player on a Patriots defense that ranks among the NFL’s best. The lingering question, however, is whether he can maintain that production over the course of a full season. He couldn’t in 2021, registering no sacks and just one QB hit over the final five games as the Patriots collapsed down the stretch.

New England has taken steps to preserve Judon for the most important portion of the season. His defensive snap rate is down 5% (from 81% to 76%), and he hasn’t played a snap on special teams since Week 2 after logging 115 snaps in the kicking game a year ago. Judon said last month that he’d need to remain healthy and well-conditioned to avoid another late-season swoon, and he offered a positive update on his current status when speaking with reporters Monday.

Judon also believes he performed well in last Thursday’s 33-26 road loss to Minnesota despite failing to record a sack on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“I think I’m all right,” he said. “I didn’t have a stat line that I usually have last game, but I think I was back there. I think I was playing well. I just couldn’t get (Cousins) down. But I really care about winning, honestly. My conditioning feels well. I’m pretty healthy right now. This is kind of the time people get colds and stuff. You kind of can’t control that, but I’m trying to take the vitamins that I can and all that to support my immune system. So I feel pretty good right now.”

Increased attention from opponents also contributed to Judon’s December nosedive last year, and he noticed the Vikings taking extra measures to prevent him from wrecking their passing attack. Judon said he welcomes these game-plan adjustments, and with a deeper pool of viable pass rushers this season (Deatrich Wise, Josh Uche, etc.), the Patriots should be better equipped to combat them.

“I think any great player or any good player or somebody that’s having a decent year, later in the season and as he’s having that kind of season, people start saying, ‘Hey, we can’t let this guy mess up the game. We can’t let this guy get going,’ ” Judon said. “That’s what you get, and that’s kind of what you want, what you prepare for. Now, we’ve just got to scheme against that because we know it’s coming, and other people have got to get free within the scheme. That’s what you do. That’s something that hopefully a lot more teams do, and then we’re going to combat it with stuff that we do.”

Judon and the Patriots’ defense will face its toughest test yet when the Josh Allen-led Buffalo Bills visit Gillette Stadium this Thursday night. Allen dominated in each of the teams’ final two meetings last season, throwing eight touchdowns with no interceptions and repeatedly burning New England on scrambles and designed QB runs (18 carries, 130 yards).

“Josh is a really good player, a special talent in this league,” Judon said. “You usually don’t see those types of players with that skill set with the ball in his hands at quarterback. It’s only a certain few that are willing to take those hits like he does and bounce right back up and laugh and giggle about it and then go throw a bomb the next play.”

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