Last we saw New England's defense, the undermanned unit was giving up 41 points and more than 500 yards to Philadelphia in the shootout loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
A defense that had its ups (No. 5 in points allowed) and downs (29th in yards allowed) during the regular season just couldn't get off the field or make a stop when it needed to with the season on the line.
But it's a new year and summertime is the season of hope in the NFL.
Plus, an offseason of personnel moves and good health could certainly have a positive impact on the defense in Foxborough.
With just four days to go until the opening of training camp, here are four reasons to have hope that the Patriots defense will show improvement in 2018.
1. Hightower returns – Pro Bowl playmaker and leader Dont'a Hightower played just five games last fall and, unlike past years' injuries, was absent from the postseason. The linebacker's return to health should pay huge dividends. He's versatile enough to do just about anything the front may need. He has a knack for making plays at key times. He's only one man, but his return could carry the weight of the many lesser men that tried to fill the void last year.
2. Gilmore settles in – Early last season Stephon Gilmore struggled mightily as the biggest free agent signing in Patriots history. By late in the year the cornerback was arguably New England's best defender. He now has a year under his belt and should only be that much more comfortable with the scheme and his teammates. The staff should be that much more comfortable taking advantage of its top cover man. An elite corner can be a good first step toward an overall solid defense.
3. Improved pass rush – Free agent signing Adrian Clayborn should bring a solid veteran presence to a defensive end spot that lacked capable bodies last fall. He may not be an elite edge rusher, but he should still be a big help. That will take some pressure off top rusher Trey Flowers as he enters a contract year. A pleasant surprise last fall, Deatrich Wise Jr. could have an even bigger impact with the Year Two Jump that Bill Belichick so often talks about. And 2017 top pick Derek Rivers can get in where he fits in as he returns from a torn ACL. The edge play and pass rush should be better in 2018 because frankly it couldn't be much worse than it was a year ago.
4. Depth of talent – Injuries and inability to fit in killed the Patriots depth last fall from front to back on defense. While health in July doesn't really matter, the roster looks deeper this fall. Danny Shelton has the potential of a former No. 12 pick and will be motivated to prove himself in his new home. Jason McCourty is a proven veteran cornerback. Rookie draft picks Ja'Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam add potential to what had been a paper-thin linebacker group. Young guys like defensive end Keionta Davis or rookie cornerback JC Jackson may be sleeper contributors. Maybe things won't look so deep come September or even December, but right now the cupboard appears to be a bit more stocked on defense for presumed first-year playcaller Brian Flores.
What do you think of our list? Overly optimistic? Let us know with a comment below!