The New England Patriots defense had an up-and-down year all 2017 long but found its groove late in the season. However, it ended its quest for a sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy on the lowest of notes: During the Patriots' loss in Super Bowl 52, the unit gave up a total of 538 net yards as well as 41 points to the Philadelphia Eagles and was unable to help out an offense productive enough to put the team in a position to win.
Four months removed from the game, a lot has changed for the group. Not only have multiple players returned after ending the 2017 campaign on season-ending injury lists, the defense will also no longer be coordinated by Matt Patricia. The coach, who served in his role since the 2012 season, left New England shortly after the Super Bowl to become the next head coach of the Detroit Lions.
The Patriots will reportedly not name a new defensive coordinator this season. Instead, linebackers coach Brian Flores – the coordinator in the waiting – will call the plays and get one year to adapt to his new job. Linebacker and defensive on-field signal caller Dont'a Hightower, who is one of the players to end last season on injured reserve, is already singing his position coach's praises.
“I feel like he brings a lot of competitiveness,” the defensive team captain told ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss after yesterday's mandatory minicamp practice. “Flo has always been known as a straight shooter, a great guy, and a lot of times that’s what you need. He’s not one to babysit. I think a lot of guys really appreciate the attitude that he’s brought to us, just in OTAs.”
The 37-year old coach worked his way up through the Patriots' system from scouting assistant to defensive coordinator in the waiting. Since 2016, he is responsible for the linebackers and will now bring the same energy he brought to the position group to the entire defense according to Hightower. “He’s not backing down [and will] be more aggressive,” the veteran linebacker told Reiss.
“You could see it,” continued Hightower before talking about the differences between Flores and Patricia. “Matty P and Flo are somewhat the same, but a little different at the same time. With the playcalling we’ve gotten so far, I definitely feel like we’re going to be more aggressive. Things are a little bit more simple, but it’s still a little bit different, and guys are learning bits and pieces of the defense. But so far, so good.”
A change in aggressiveness certainly sounds like a welcome move, especially after watching the Patriots defense get torched by Nick Foles and the Eagles during the Super Bowl. New England, as it has all season long, simply was too inconsistent when it came to putting pressure on the opposing offense. With Flores at the helm now, the passiveness that hurt the unit from time to time might become a thing of the past.
The defense certainly seems to embrace this: “A lot of guys that have come in from different organizations, like [Adrian Clayborn], he’s picked it up,” Hightower said yesterday. “We’re able to run with it and we’re able to play a lot faster.” And while it is only June and a lot will happen until the season starts, the 28-year old's words show that the defensive changes do not stop with the person calling the shots.