I received an e-mail from Matty I over at the Phinsider asking for a couple paragraphs explaining why the Patriots linebackers were better than the Dolphins linebackers. I was happy to oblige except that I didn't know the current Phin line-up very well. Taylor and Porter are gone, and I've been spending much more time focusing on our draft picks than theirs. Still, I sent him what amounts to "Why I love the Patriots Linebackers this Year". As I went through the list, I became even more pumped about the season. Here is what I sent him:
Jerod Mayo heads the Patriots linebacker squad. With Tedy Bruschi gone, and Tyrone McKenzie on IR, Mayo slid over to the strong side last year and called the defensive plays. It was a new role for him. Add in his three game injury, and he wasn't as effective as his DROY year: only 103 tackles (70 solo) vs 128 (100 solo). Tyrone McKenzie spent his year on IR studying the playbook and bulking up. With the addition of tackling machine Brandon Spikes from Florida, Jerod should be able to slide back over to his home ground of read and react on the weak side. Gary Guyton is back, and has the speed to drop into coverage against the best Tight Ends in the business as well as pressure from the OLB position.
Tully Banta-Cain is back after getting 9.5 sacks from the right side last year. Past him, the OLB position is a little more uncertain. Derrick Burgess was a little slow to pick up the system, but came along nicely at the end, picking up 3 of his 5 sacks in the last three games. He was a situational DE most of the year, but has been practicing dropping into coverage this preseason and it looks like he has some proficiency there. Look for him to be more of a three down OLB. Shawn Crable is lightning fast, and if he can stay healthy, he will be tough to contain. I look for a lot of offensive penalties as linemen jump before the snap to try to grab him. Hoodie had a chance to grab Carlos Dunlap, but drafted his teammate, Jermaine Cunningham from Florida, instead. Looking at some film, Cunningham was the guy drawing double teams, while Dunlap was left one on one, so I think Belichick knew what he was doing there. Of course, Pierre Woods is still on the squad if someone needs a break.
A lot of people talk about the OLB's in a 3-4 as the pass rushers, and quite often they are, but the pass rush can come from inside just as easily. It's been a few years since the Pats could successfully disguise their pass rush scheme, but with the personnel they have in place, pressure can come from anywhere. Personally, I prefer inside pressure because the QB can't just cozy up into the pocket and complete the pass. With a linebacker in his face, the pocket collapses, throwing lanes shrink, and the QB finds himself scrambling - hopefully into the waiting arms of the OLB. The season can't possibly come soon enough.
I hope you agree.