The New England Patriots have quietly built one of the best defenses in the NFL this season, with the unit currently ranking four in scoring. While playing effective defense is a collective effort, the Patriots have seen some key contributions out of individual players.
Two of those have now been named to the NFL’s All-Underrated defense as named by Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire.
Matthew Judon, EDGE, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick loves defensive players who can succeed in multiple roles, but he also has a knack for putting those types of players in the best positions to succeed. In March, New England signed the former Ravens star, who lined up all over the place in Wink Martindale’s blitz-happy defenses, to a four-year, $56 million contract, and Judon has done a lot to redefine the Patriots’ defense ever since. It started in the preseason, when Judon single-handedly put spike strips all over Washington’s offense, and it’s been the case ever since.
Judon carried a hefty price tag when he arrived in New England but he has lived up to it so far. Not only has the 29-year-old registered a team-high nine sacks, he also has set a stout edge in the running game — helping the Patriots drastically improved a run defense that was quite leaky a year ago. Nine games into his tenure with the team, Judon has a strong case as its most valuable defender of the season.
Adrian Phillips, S, New England Patriots
Phillips has been a big difference-maker this year in ways he wasn’t in 2020, his first year with the Patriots after six seasons with the Chargers. Not that Phillips was awful last season; like a lot of Patriots defenders, he just didn’t perform up to his potential.
That’s out the window now, to great effect and impact. ... Phillips has allowed just 12 receptions on 21 targets this season for 93 yards, 48 yards after the catch, one touchdown, three interceptions, one pass breakup, and an opponent passer rating of 44.4. Moreover, he’s played excellent, meaningful snaps at the defensive line, in the box and slot, at deep safety, and even at outside cornerback.
The Patriots used Phillips as a “star” defender in 2020, using him to create additional depth at a thin off-the-ball linebacker position. He did perform admirably but oftentimes found himself outmatched against bigger personnel. With New England massively upgrading its linebacker corps, however, the 29-year-old has become a true “Swiss Army Knife” for the defense capable of impacting the passing game and the running game.