As usual in preseason, the New England Patriots gave their roster locks and starting-caliber players a limited number of snaps against the Washington Football Team on Thursday night. Matthew Judon was no exception, playing only 12 of a possible 81 defensive snaps in his first ever game as a Patriot.
Despite the limited sample size, however, one thing is already obvious: Judon is fitting in well with the team’s defense, and his impact on it can already be felt. Just ask Thursday’s opponent.
Playing exclusively from an outside linebacker alignment, Judon had some noteworthy moments versus Washington. The following three-play stretch, happening over two series, is a perfect example of that — and of what the Patriots invested in:
Matt Judon is going to be a problem this season. In one three-play sequence last night he:— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) August 13, 2021
-Knifed into the backfield for a run stuff on third-and-2
-Rushed, then dropped into coverage to force an incompletion
-Ran right through the LT's block to nail Fitzpatrick with a QB hit pic.twitter.com/cXU8ya8bcH
The first play was just perfectly executed by Judon. He allowed no space to be created between himself and the Washington offensive line, while showing proper patience and reactionary skills to tackle running back Peyton Barber short of the sticks on a 3rd-and-2.
The second play shows Judon fake his rush against left tackle Charles Leno before quickly resetting and dropping into coverage. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick never saw him, which in turn allowed the linebacker to compete for the pass intended for Antonio Gibson.
The third play is Judon just overpowering Leno on his way into the backfield. He never allowed the blocker to engage, successfully keeping his momentum intact before ultimately hitting Fitzpatrick right as he threw a pass that was broken up by cornerback J.C. Jackson.
Those three plays are totally different, but they show that Judon has the abilities to be a true every-down and every-situation defender for the Patriots.
He can help out in the running game, be a menace as a pass rusher, and also drop back into coverage if need be. He did all of those things versus Washington, even though he was on the field for just a dozen defensive snaps. He made them count, however, despite also taking a trip to the medical tent on the second drive after a cut block appeared to have hurt his knees.
Judon did return to the game, but his night ended shortly afterwards — a coaching decision more than anything else. Nonetheless, the game was an encouraging start for the 28-year-old.
“I’m glad we have him,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Judon during a press conference on Friday morning. “He’s got a lot of skill in the running game, in the passing game. He’s a very instinctive player. He seems to figure things out pretty quickly, and has fit in well with the group. Has a great work ethic. Shows up to work every day. Competes hard.
“I think that’s a good thing for all of us to build off of, and try to emulate the attitude and the toughness and the effort that he comes in with on a consistent basis. Whether it be game day like we saw last night, or meetings, practices, walkthroughs, whatever it is. He’s been a good addition and I’m glad we have him on the team.”
A former fifth-round draft pick, Judon started his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens. A backup player at first, he developed into a productive all-around linebacker for the organization — one that notched 35.5 sacks in 80 contests. He therefore entered free agency as an intriguing option at the edge linebacker position, and Belichick’s team did not hesitate to bring him aboard.
Judon and the Patriots agreed to join forces on a four-year, $56 million contract just hours into the so-called legal tampering period in March.
Five months later, Judon has now played his first game as a Patriot. It was a good one.
So, what stands out about him? For fellow outside linebacker Tashawn Bower it is a few things.
“I think honestly, he has speed and power,” Bower said after the Washington game. “He’s someone that’s able to run around the edge and someone who can go up and just bull-rush you as well. And he’s been around a little bit so he has so much knowledge to give and me and a lot of other guys are just under his wing trying to take everything in, learn as much as we can from him. So, he brings a lot to the table.”
While there is a difference between preseason and regular season, Judon’s first game in a Patriots uniform was without question an exciting start.