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Patriots defense still ranked as the best in the NFL despite offseason departures

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Related: Patriots’ J.J. Taylor named among best undrafted rookie signings in the NFL this year

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ 2019 season may have ended in disappointment and via a loss in the wild card round of the playoffs, but the team did have plenty of success along the way — especially on the defensive side of the ball. The unit led the league in scoring and, despite cooling off a bit after a historic start, carried the Patriots and its inconsistent offensive attack to 12 regular season victories as well as another AFC East title.

For a repeat performance in 2020, especially with quarterback Tom Brady no longer part of the equation, the unit will need to rise up to the challenge once again. While it remains to be seen how much success the Patriots will have on the defensive side of the ball this year, one man is still confident: USA Today’s Doug Farrar recently ranked the league’s defenses from worst to first, and New England’s took the top spot.

Unless you have the right personnel for it, man coverage is very tough to play. Only the Lions had more man coverage targets than the Patriots did in 2019 — 336 to 291. The difference was that the Lions allowed 23 touchdowns and had just three interceptions in man coverage, and the Patriots allowed just 10 touchdowns and had 18 picks. And the NFL’s three best pass defenders in man coverage last season with at least 25 targets per QBR allowed, were Patriots cornerbacks — J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, and Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. Add in the fact that the Patriots amassed 47 sacks and allowed a league-best seven rushing touchdowns, and you have what may be Bill Belichick’s crowning achievement as a defensive coach.

Led by linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, the Patriots suffered some notable losses on defense over the course of the offseason. That said, the team’s secondary still projects to be among the best in football and the backbone of a defense that added considerable athleticism and versatility during the draft and free agency. Add the coaching factor and one can see why the unit is still seen as the best in football at this point in time.