January 31, 2017
By Justin Lasher
While not a sexy position group, the defensive line and linebacker group, is a very important group. For the New England Patriots this group is very instrumental in, not only their success on defense, but their overall success. Often times, if you’re not a flashy, statistical leader, you will get overlooked as a great player on the defensive line or linebacker crew. That is the case with many on this season’s version of the Patriots defensive front seven.
We’ve talked about it at nauseam, but the Patriots are the number one scoring defense in the league this year, and a lot of credit for that, is due to the success of their front seven. Guys like Chris Long, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Trey Flowers anchored the defensive line, while Shea McClellin, Dont’a Hightower, and Rob Ninkovich filled in the gaps at linebacker. Not a flashy group by any means, or has any one guy that sticks out as an absolute superstar, however this group has proved to be very steady and productive all year. This group has been particularly great against the run this year. During the regular season, they allowed the 3rd fewest rushing yards per game (88.6 yds allowed/gm). Over their two games in the postseason, they have only improved on that number, and are allowing only 79.5 rushing yards per game. Against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, this unit was tasked at stopping Le’Veon Bell, who was torching everybody in his way. I realize that Bell got hurt in that game, however reliable backup, DeAngelo Williams, couldn’t get anything going either. The Patriots defensive front seven held the Steelers to only 54 yards on 20 carries.
There are other statistical numbers that stick out for this group of Patriots defensemen. Dont’a Hightower led the front seven in total tackles with 65, however was 5th on the Patriots team in total tackles. Trey Flowers was tied for 4th in the league in fumble recoveries by defensive lineman during the regular season. The knock on the Patriots front seven is that they couldn’t get after the quarterback. This group ranked 16th overall as a defense in total sacks, however Trey Flowers had a very respectable 7 sacks by himself.
I will leave you with a review from Joe Robbins from profootballfocus.com. Robbins recently ranked and reviewed all 32 defensive front sevens on the year, and he had this to say on the Patriots group:
“18. New England Patriots
Top overall grade: LB Dont’a Hightower, 85.4
Lowest overall grade: OLB Rob Ninkovich, 49.8
The Patriots, much like the Ravens before them, were a run-stopping unit first and foremost. Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Trey Flowers were all dominant this year against the run; Branch and Brown finished second and third among all defensive tackles in run-stopping percentage, while Flowers finished 10th among edge players. Unfortunately, they too had their struggles getting after the quarterback, as the Patriots were 24th in team pass-rushing grade.”