Everyone discussed the disappearance of a pass rush in 2008. In 2009, we all talked about how there was no change in the pass rush. Well, in my opinion, 2010 is more of the same.
In 2008, there were three players with 3 or more sacks: Adalius Thomas, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour. Before the 2009 season, Vrabel and Seymour were traded away, leaving only Thomas on the roster.
In 2009, there were four players with 3 or more sacks: Thomas, Mike Wright, Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess. Burgess and Thomas were not resigned this off-season, leaving only Wright and Banta-Cain on the roster.
Now, it's 2010. Only Mike Wright has 3 sacks this season. Only Gerard Warren and Brandon Deaderick are on pace to record three sacks on the season- and Warren record both of his in Week 2 and hasn't tagged any since. Looking at the other players on the team with a sack:
Tully Banta-Cain - No sacks since Week 2.
Jermaine Cunningham - One sack in Week 6 against the Ravens and although he has been greatly improving, he is not quick enough to reach the quarterback consistently.
Myron Pryor - No sacks since Week 1.
Rob Ninkovich - One herculean effort against the Miami Dolphins in Week 4 with a sack and two interceptions, but has been non-existent since that game.
Jerod Mayo - One sack in Week 3 against Buffalo, but hasn't been used against the quarterback since then as his role has been defined as "wait in the box."
Those are the only other players to record sacks. This team has received no help from its outside linebackers in terms of created pressure and reaching the quarterback. When the linemen in the Patriots 3-4 defense has more sacks than the linebackers, something is wrong with the linebackers. Other than 2008, the first year everyone collectively stated, "Where is the pass rush?," there has not been a season where the Patriots 3-4 defense has more sacks from its linemen than the rest of the defense.
What's going on? Read after the jump!
This defense is on pace for its fewest sacks in the Bill Belichick era. The lowest number was 29 sacks in 2000, Belichick's first season. They are currently on pace for 26 sacks. The only other comparable seasons in sacklessness have been 2002 (33), 2005 (33), 2008 (30) and 2009 (31). What do these seasons have in common? They're the only seasons in the past decade that the Patriots have not made the AFC Championship Game. If the Patriots do not get their defense in check, they won't have a shot at the AFCG this season.
The Patriots have a young defense and this is why they have been playing an extremely simple defense. However, if the Patriots want to start pressuring the quarterback, they're going to have to start making their defense more complex with rushes from different players. If a rookie quarterback is able to read and exploit coverages, the defense is far too simple. I haven't seen any defensive back blitzes (and the Patriots usually have at least a handful of sacks from defensive backs creating pressure).
There have been extremely few interior blitzes as the inside linebackers have been asked to stand 7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The outside linebackers haven't cut inside to change up the pressure. A simple defense can only be so simple until it's not educational for the young players. I haven't seen any new play sets for the young players which would signify that they are being given a bigger play book. They need to start developing the defense or else opposing teams will have enough game video of the defense to pick it apart more than they already are.
The defense needs to start playing creative football, or else there will be many more games like Sunday against the Browns.
I did a quick scan of players who will become free agents after this season who could be potentially solid/great OLBs, but there were only a few, and it's highly unlikely that they'll sign with the Patriots:
Lamarr Woodley, 3-4 OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tamba Hali, 3-4 OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
Mathias Kiwanuka, 4-3 DE, New York Giants (currently injured)
It looks like the Patriots will have to address this position through the draft, which is something they never do through the draft. They have drafted two OLBs in the first three rounds since the implementation of the 3-4 defense (Shawn Crable and Jermaine Cunningham), so they prefer to grab players through free agency. This is a position that can't wait for another Mike Vrabel to fall in their lap in free agency- they need to grab a stud in the draft.
Hopefully the Patriots can find their pass rush and find it soon. Their season depends on it.
Here's a list of documented sacks and hits by the Patriots this season