To be honest, the entire Patriots defense is a bit of a question mark at this point. There are some new faces on the team, both rookie and veteran alike. Players are returning from injury and are fighting hard to make the final roster. What base formation the team will operate out of is anybody's guess. The only sure thing is that this D has absolutely nowhere to go but up, and with a pair of promising 1st Round Draft picks leading the way, there is a lot of reason for optimism surrounding a unit that used to be a source of pride for Bill Belichick.
Among the many problems that plagued the defense last season, one of the most damning was the lack of pass rush. I don't even want to think about all the time I spent screaming at the screen as the Dan Orlovskys and Matt Moores of the NFL were given all day to sit back in the pocket and carve our secondary to shreds. However, in spite of having a fairly forgettable year defensively, the 2011 Patriots were still able to amass 40 sacks, good enough to rank them 14th in the league (5 more sacks than the vaunted Jets and Steelers defense, I should add). The issue was more of the team not getting to the quarterback when it mattered, and a lack of consistent pressure on every passing down. The million dollar question, then, is whether this is the year the pass rush FINALLY gets back on track in terms of regular, steady pressure that ends in a lot of incomplete passes or sacks. Based on some key losses, some key additions, and what I'm sure has been a concerted effort to bolster the pass rush this offseason, I'm putting the over/under on Patriots team sacks at 35.
Why you should bet the over: He may have a stony demeanor and act like nothing bothers him, but you can bet your lucky drawers that Bill Belichick is more than a little irked at the reputation his defense has gotten as of late. This offseason, he took a very un-Belichickean approach to the draft and moved up twice to select Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, no doubt with the notion of shoring up the pass rush in mind. Let's not forget 3rd Round pick Jake Bequette and the acquisitions of Jonathan Fanene, Trevor Scott, and Bobby Carpenter, as well as multiple players who are coming back from injury. All in all, there are a lot of players primed to make a big impact now, and with a full offseason and training camp to get them ready, I'm expecting this unit to come out of the box with something to prove. Vince Wilfork talked last season about how much it bothered him that this defense wasn't intimidating opponents, and the Patriots may have acquired the missing pieces this past year to get this D back on track.
Why you should bet the under: Of the team's 40 sacks last season, 20 of them came from players who are no longer on the team. While Andre Carter may still return, that isn't a guarantee, and even if he does, who knows what kind of shape he'll be in after his injury. That's 50% of the team's sack total gone, and what we're left with filling the holes left by Carter and Mark Anderson are some rookies, some question marks, and some solid - but not spectacular - veterans. When there is as much uncertainty along the line as there currently is in New England, it's always good to temper expectations and allow the defense to play a few snaps before we go singing their praises. An improved secondary should help give the rushers time to bring down the quarterback, this unit still might be a season away from being one of the more intimidating fronts in the league.
Here's hoping it's the over, but I'm not so sure. What do you think?