The talk of Tom Brady’s demise from earlier this year was greatly exaggerated. Brady’s play has definitely slipped over the past few years, he makes mistakes he never used to and he can’t make all the throws he once could, but Brady at about 80 percent of what he once was is still a whole lot better than almost anyone else. The offense has turned the corner since that blowout loss to the Chiefs on national television but Brady didn’t snap out of some sort of funk as much as Bill Belichick and the coaching staff figured out the right recipe to use with their offensive line and Rob Gronkowski not only got healthy but has stayed healthy.
As long as Belichick, Brady and Gronkowski are there the Patriots will always cause opposing defenses problems but in the recent past that recipe was enough to steamroll in the regular season and run out of that steam against playoff defenses. This year Belichick focused his offseason attention more on the defense and for that reason the Patriots look like clear favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year.
Most of the talk surrounding the Patriots defense has focused on Darrelle Revis (understandably so as he is back to being old Revis and the best corner in the league) but this defense is about so much more than just Revis. To only focus on Revis would be doing a disservice to the rest of the talent that fills up their defensive roster.
Their secondary (with corners Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Brandon Browner, and safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty) is great but their front-seven is pretty damn impressive as well. Vince Wilfork is nowhere near the dominant player he once was but with Chris Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones (back from injury) the line is filled with playmakers and despite losing arguably their best linebacker (Jerod Mayo) for the season to injury they have a group of linebackers who are playing as good as any group of linebackers in the NFL right now.
Jamie Collins is an absolute stud, extremely versatile. He plays the run, can rush the passer and is among the best linebackers in the league in coverage. Dont’a Hightower was great while he was at Alabama but he has truly developed into a well rounded tackling machine during his time in New England. The way he sees a play develop and instinctually reacts has been very impressive and to replace Mayo Belichick took the Tennessee Titans garbage, Akeem Ayers, and turned him into a gem as well.
“Those guys are active. They can do a lot of different things with them. They can blitz them, they can drop them, play man coverage (and/or) zone coverage,” Rex Ryan said. “So, they’re kind of like Swiss Army Knife type guys, you can do a lot of different things with them. It’s not that this guy is always (responsible for) three receiver hooks or anything. So, with that it’s a little challenging but they’re all good players.”
The addition of Revis has certainly helped take their defense to another level but he is hardly the only reason why this defense causes so many problems for opposing offenses. With the Jets coming off a 16-11 win against the Titans they will surely face a much more difficult task trying to move the ball and score on such a complete and versatile defense as the Patriots.
Geno Smith has played better these past two games (with the exception of that pick six against the Vikings) but the Patriots present a much harder test for the second-year quarterback than either of the last two opponents.
The Jets are, as they have been for weeks now, playing strictly for pride while the Patriots are playing to lockup a first round bye and home field advantage. The Jets would obviously love to destroy those hopes of the Patriots but in order to do that Smith and company will have to conquer the best Patriots defense we’ve seen since the last time the Patriots won a Super Bowl.