The Patriots defense has been a wrecking ball this summer. In three preseason games the group racked up 15 sacks and 18 tackles for loss while allowing an average of less than 8 points per game.
While much of the focus has been on the coaching staff and which member is calling the defensive plays, what has stood out most is the overall aggressiveness on display each week.
There were times when the pressure seemed to come from all angles, and to prove that point 13 different Patriots recorded at least a half a sack over those first three games.
Linebackers coach Jerod Mayo has fielded his share of questions wondering how the plays will be called once the regular season begins, and has continued to direct those inquiries to Bill Belichick. But Mayo was more than willing to discuss the mindset of the front seven and the versatility it has the potential to bring when he and the rest of the staff met with reporters Monday afternoon.
“Those guys are a lot more versatile than I was as a player. I was just an inside ’backer,” Mayo said. “We’re fortunate enough to have guys who can play defensive end, outside ’backer, inside ’backer, all over the place. We’ll see what happens on a week-to-week basis. We’ve always been a game plan team and I’m sure it will continue to be that way.”
Mayo and the rest of the defensive staff have plenty of options to choose from. Depending on how they’re employed, players such as Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, John Simon, Dont’a Hightower and Chase Winovich can be used as down linemen on the end or as standup outside linebackers.
That can lead to some confusion for offenses, which has been on display this summer. Newcomer Michael Bennett talked about his lack of experience playing with just one down lineman, a formation that led to a sack against Carolina, but those so-called amoeba alignments have been fairly common for Belichick’s defense over the years.
“The biggest thing for me has been the ability to do different things in different games,” defensive line coach Bret Bielema said. “It’s about everybody doing their job. In this league you might have a quarterback within your division that you’re worried about running all over the place, the next week it’s a running back, so to be able to have multiple answers for every situation is probably a benefit for everybody.”
As for Bennett, Bielema has been thrilled with his impact in the early going.
“The big thing with Michael is he brings so much experience to the schemes,” he said. “The young guys especially like being around him. All the things he’s bought into since he came here has really been a nice addition.”
Mayo wasn’t ready to say he expected the increased pressure to continue but did emphasize the need to keep the focus on the aggressiveness.
“You always want your guys to go out there and play loose and play aggressive,” Mayo said. “Coaches get in the way sometimes. You want to be able to give those guys a call and let those guys have the tools to make the same call look different in multiple ways.
“It’s only been the preseason so we’ll see.”