Not Last Year's Patriots Defense


If judging by average yards allowed per game, the New England Patriots had the second-worst defense in the league last year.

Oh how things have changed.

The Patriots defense currently stands as the second-best unit in the league, a total reversal from a year ago.  After using six of their seven draft picks on the defensive side of the ball this past April, the Patriots have a younger, faster defense.

"It just so happens that they have a great quarterback and a great offense over there, so the defense sometimes gets overshadowed a little bit," running back Ray Rice said. "But that's a great group over there and we're looking forward to an opportunity."

The Ravens put up 398 offensive yards in the AFC championship last year. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 306 against a makeshift secondary that had a wide receiver playing cornerback.

It doesn't size up to be the same kind of battle this year.

"They are playing tremendously well," Head Coach John Harbaugh said of the Pats defense. "[It is] just a really, really good defense."

Harbaugh went through the entire Patriots defense, pointing out its strengths:

New England plays a Cover 2 in the secondary that is disguised well. The defensive backs are very physical and "hit every receiver they see." They get steady pressure out of their front seven and the linebackers are downhill, physical players. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork clogs up the middle.

Head Coach Bill Belichick's background is also based in defense, even though his run with the Patriots has often been defined by an explosive offense.

"They've got a good front seven, they have a secondary that plays really well together, they're well-coached," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "They're a good defense, and they're playing pretty well, so it should be a good test."

The Patriots were aggressive in improving their defense in the draft.

They traded a third-round pick to move up six picks to draft defensive end Chandler Jones, younger brother of Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones, in the first round. Minutes later, they handed over a fourth-round pick to move up another six spots to grab Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Both were players the Ravens had high on their draft board, Harbaugh said. Jones and Hightower are already starters, and they've already shown their playmaking abilities.

In Week 1, Jones came off the edge to sack Titans quarterback Jake Locker and force a fumble. Hightower scooped it up and scooted six yards into the end zone. Jones already has two forced fumbles this season.

"Their front seven is the strength of that defense," Ravens fullback Vonta Leach said, adding that he looks forward to hitting the younger Jones brother.

"They really get after the quarterback and attack the opposing team's offense."

The Patriots have been especially stingy against the run so far this year, holding opponents to 62.5 yards per game. They have three big linebackers in Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Hightower.

Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron rejected the notion that the Patriots defense from a year ago was even that lowly. While it did surrender a lot of yards, New England was in the middle of the pack (No. 18) in points allowed per game (21.4).

"I thought they were better than advertised last year," Cameron said. "It was just matter of time. They've drafted well, and they've got talent. That's a good combination."

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