While the quality of the opposition may not have been first-class, there is no denying that the New England Patriots’ defense is off to an impressive start into the 2019 regular season. Through four games, the unit has surrendered just 13 total points while also leading the league in numerous statistical categories — from sacks to takeaways to third downs. In short: the Patriots have made life tough no matter who they faced so far.
Later today, they will go up against a Washington Redskins team that has had its fair share of issues on the offensive side of the ball and will start backup quarterback Colt McCoy. Needless to say that head coach Jay Gruden’s team will have its work cut out versus the best defense in football. And judging by his comments from earlier this week, it sure looks like Gruden knows that he and his team will face an enormous challenge.
“He’s able to do a lot of things on defense: lineup, personnel groups, stunts on the inside; they can line up in different fronts, different coverages; they play tight man-to-man,” he said about Patriots head coach and primary defensive play caller Bill Belichick. “He’s a very good defensive coach, fundamental coach, and scheme coach. He can take your best player out of the game whoever he thinks that is and make other guys beat you, and they cover the heck out of them.”
“They change up their coverages, give you different blitz patterns and stunts, so it’s a disruptive defense,” added Gruden when talking about New England’s defense. “You never know what exactly you’re going to get. When you go through these walkthroughs and line guys up where you think they’re going to be, and then on game day it’s going to be totally different. You have to adjust, so your rules have to be sound on offense.”
Gruden was not the only member of the Redskins to address the Patriots defense this week. Veteran running back Adrian Peterson, who has taken over the top spot on the position depth chart following a knee injury suffered by Derrius Guice, also opened up the unit — and like his head coach, he recognized its success and shed some light on what it does well overall and against the run in particular.
“You look at their defense, at each level they really don’t have big name-guys outside of the cornerbacks,” said the 34-year-old during a media availability session. “They just play textbook football. They do a lot of stunts up front as well, but their linebackers do a great job of just getting their depth when it comes to the run game and just sitting there and waiting for the play to come to them and then react.”
“That’s something that I’ve seen, they really rally to the ball and tackle well,” added Peterson. “The secondary, cornerbacks do a great job tackling as well. And from what I’ve seen on film, they’re doing a good job of getting to the quarterback as well — that’s why they’re ranked number one against the run and number two against the pass. And they have 12, 13 turnovers [editor’s note: 10]. They’re good.”
With McCoy under center, Peterson will likely be asked to play a sizable for Washington’s offense against the Patriots. So far this season, however, he has struggled: he has carried the football 33 times during his team’s first four games but gained only 90 yards and one touchdown in the process. Peterson’s longest run against the season was for only 10 yards, as the blocking up front was mightily inconsistent in this area.
The Patriots, on the other hand, have looked strong stopping the run even though they had some issues against another experience runner — the Buffalo Bills’ Frank Gore — last week. It would be a surprise if Peterson found similar success, but New England still needs to play fundamentally sound defense in order to slow him and by extension Washington’s offense as a whole down.