FOXBORO (CBS) – For years, the New England Patriots lacked a pass-rush on the defensive side of the ball.
It may just be preseason, but that has all changed this year.
Through two preseason games this season, the Pats getting to the opposing quarterback has been the talk of the town. New England recorded four sacks against the Jaguars and another three against the Buccaneers. Even though none of this counts, it has gotten fans and the pundits excited.
“I think that we’re all out there flying around, having a good time,” said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “Just getting after the quarterback, it’s fun.”
The Patriots have added veteran quarterback seekers in Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter and Albert Haynesworth. Although Haynesworth and Ellis have yet to play in a preseason game (and Haynesworth has not practice as much as people would hope), there is still a buzz surrounding the kind of nightmares a potential Patriots pass-rush could give opposing quarterbacks.
Ellis spent 10 seasons with the Jets, hunting down the quarterback 72.5 times during his days in New York. Haynesworth, although a bit of a risk due to his reputation, has shown when motivated he can be one of the best. In nine seasons, he has 30.5 sacks, including 8.5 in 2008 when he was named Defensive Player of the Year. Carter tailed off in 2010, but has 66 sacks in 10 seasons, and had 11 during the 2009 campaign.
Mix Haynesworth with Vince Wilfork, and it’s a very scary thought for offensive linemen with the daunting task of moving those two.
“If they’re on their A-game, they’re going to give some guys some fits,” said Patriots All-Pro offensive lineman Logan Mankins. “The offensive line, we’re happy that they’re both on our team now.”
“Albert, when I’ve played against him, he’s as tough as anyone,” said Mankins. “He’s a special person on the field, there is not many guys that can do what he can do.”
As for the former Jet Ellis, the Patriots offensive line is very familiar with what he brings to the table.
“We always had good battles against Shaun,” Mankins said of Ellis. “I don’t think he liked us and we didn’t like him. On the same team, we like each other.
However, all the pressure on the quarterback could change depending on Bill Belichick’s gameplan on any give Sunday.
“One week we may come out with pressure, the next week we may be sitting back in coverage,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo, who given the chance to roam free, had two sacks against the Bucs. “You never know and I think that’s a good quality of this defense.”
“There’s no telling what coach Belichick is drawing up in that office right now,” Mayo joked.
“Any football player that is aggressive loves to attack. At times it calls for us to attack, at times it calls for us to sit back and play some good technique,” said Vince Wilfork. “I was always told when the coach gives you leeway to make a play, you better make it count.”
“Any time you can get the quarterback off his spot and mess up the timing of the receivers and the QB, it’s going to help,” added Ninkovich. “If we continue to do things like that, effect the quarterback and his play, everything is going to work out for the defense.”
There was a lot of pressure on a young Patriots secondary in 2010, not only dealing with the loss of top corner Leigh Bodden, but having quarterbacks that could take their time and find the open receiver. The pass defense was one of the worst in the league, surrendering 258.5 yards per game, ranking 30th in the NFL.
That could all change with legitimate pressure on the quarter.
“The pass-rush and the secondary, they go hand in hand,” said second-year corner Devin McCourty. “We can’t be a good secondary without a good pass rush and they can’t be good at getting after the quarterback if we can’t cover anybody. As good as we can be at both areas that will help the defense and the team out.”
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“It all comes back to trying to be on the same page, we all have to lean on each other,” McCourty added.
With new faces and a new defensive mindset, communication will be key.
“It’s good to have good communication out there on the field. That’s where it starts, and that can always get better,” said Wilfork.
“Most important is how we’re growing as a team,” said the newcomer Carter, who looked great getting after the QB against the Bucs. “There is always opportunity to get better. There is always opportunity to enhance your technique and skills.”
“One thing I enjoy about this team is we always push each other to the limit. And when we can’t get any further, there is always a little bit more,” said Carter.
Tune in to the Patriots preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Saturday at 8pm on WBZ-TV and 98.5 The Sports Hub. Pregame coverage begins at 5pm on the Sports Hub and at 7pm on WBZ. Tune in after the game for postgame coverage on both stations.