Pass rush has been the icing on the cake when it comes to the Patriots defense.
It has been a catalyst for their success, and a primary reason the Patriots got started midway through the season.
Only the pass rush has taken a break since the farewell week.
It’s cooled off. It has mostly been stuck in neutral. So much so that Matt Judon & Co. is almost taking milk carton status.
After two defeats, the Patriots can not afford to have that group missed in action much longer, especially if the defense again wants to influence the games.
With Judon appearing to have a decent chance of playing if he were to pass the required protocols – he tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday – the turnaround should start with him.
He is the heartbeat of the defense. He gets everyone started on his motoric and relentless pursuit of the quarterback.
He gives a jolt of energy that gives everyone a boost. Only Judon, and the defense as a whole, have not been able to get it in a higher gear lately.
Judon has been uncharacteristically silent the last two matches both on the goal list and on the pitch. Some of it has to do with teams planning to lessen his influence, making sure he gets chipped off tight ends, or backs on his way out of the backfield.
It should not come as a surprise. Star pass rushers usually attract that kind of extra attention.
Some of the break also has to do with the Patriots scheme, which uses more of a measured pass-rush against mobile quarterbacks. That was certainly the case against Buffalo.
To try and prevent Josh Allen from killing them with his legs, the Patriots rushers changed their rush a bit with the goal of blocking his rushing lanes.
Still, Allen had too much time to dismantle the defense, whether he was in his pocket or out on the go. And he was not in the least deterred by a lukewarm rush, capable of beating the Patriots with his arm and legs.
Allen fell back to the pass 47 times last Sunday and was not fired a single time. He was barely touched or bothered on most of his throws.
Carson Wentz did not throw it near as much the previous week, mostly because he did not have to let it go. But that’s another story.
Bottom line: The Patriots can not allow quarterbacks to feel as comfortable as Allen was last week, and Wentz, to some extent, the week before.
If they want to return to their winning ways, this is definitely a place to start. For without pressure, the secondary is revealed. So much was extremely clear against the bills.
On Sunday, against the Jaguars, if Judon is really back, he should be back to make a difference. He leads the team with 12.5 sacks and the players make a living from him. Without providing the spark, the defense has nothing to do.
Deatrich Wise has just come off the COVID-19 list, and his presence should help, though others will have to step up, especially if Judon ends up not playing.
Christian Barmore must return to blasting linemen in the air. And whether it’s Chase Winovich or rookie Ronnie Perkins who could make his NFL debut, depending on which players return from the COVID-19 list, someone has to make Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence uncomfortable.
And with the Jaguars decimated by COVID-19 cases without knowing whether they want a provisional offensive line or not, it certainly increases the chances of the Patriots to turn up the heat.
Maybe Dont’a Hightower will see more time out on the edge, to try to create some pressure, or at least disrupt Lawrence if Judon does not play.
“Jacksonville is a heavy passing team. You can see why. They have skilled players who can take a five-yard hitch and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown, ”said Hightower. “We’re aware of all those things. We have the right guys to (pass rush). It’s going to come down to fundamentals and execution. No doubt coach (Bill Belichick) will have a good plan for us. So it’s about , that we take it together this week and go out and execute. ”
Lawrence has similar traits to Buffalo’s Allen. And even though he’s not Allen, he could conceivably hurt the Patriots in the same way with both his arm and his legs.
Whatever the case, the Patriots must increase the pressure, or as security Adrian Phillips put it, return to their disruptive ways.
“Diruption is great for our defense, especially in the passing game,” Phillips said Wednesday. “It’s about being able to disrupt the timing. (Against Buffalo) we did not affect the quarterback as we usually do. To get him to make a crazy throw, to make him throw before the receiver breaks out of his route. ”
Pressure is not always defined by sacks. It bothers the quarterback enough, so he does not arrive on time with his throws.
So whether it’s actually bringing the quarterback down, or wreaking havoc with his ability to throw, the Patriots need to get it back to help the secondary and once again make the groundbreaking stops that prevailed during the seven-game streak.