The Patriots offense suffered through periods of inconsistency throughout the first half of the season but the play of the defense allowed the team to post a 6-2 mark during that time. Improvement was evident throughout the unit, and some of that was expected while some was not.
For example, Chandler Jones leads the club in sacks with 6.5 but Chris Jones is right behind him with five. Most figured Chandler Jones would be in such a position but few even knew who Chris Jones was at the start of the year.
So, given the solid play of the defense we wanted to see if we could identify which player most exceeded expectations during the first half of the season, and that's our Samsonite Make Your Case question this week.
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
After watching him down the stretch last season, I knew entering 2013 that Aqib Talib was a good cornerback. But through the first month-plus he was a great cornerback.
Talib was easily the Patriots first-half MVP and key to the New England defensive evolution. He allowed others like Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard to slide into more appropriate roles. He also helped the pass rush produce at a more consistent rate.
Talib took away opponents' top targets each week. He established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL this fall. In a contract year, Talib has made himself some serious money. He's been much better than I could have expected and best we've seen in New England since Ty Law. Now, he just needs to get healthy and get back on the field for the second-half run.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
The defense is full of players who performed well during the first half but if I have to choose the one I'm most surprised by it would have to be Chris Jones. When Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down with injuries it was hard to imagine a rookie like Jones filling in to fill the void. But the rookie waiver wire pickup has provided some energy at defensive tackle while collapsing the pocket and generating some interior heat on the passer, something the Patriots have been looking for in recent years.
Jones is not going to make anyone forget about Warren Sapp or Geno Atkins, but his speed and agility are rare for a 300-pounder and his non-stop motor has been evident from the first snap he played. He's not the most gifted pass rusher in the league but somehow he's found a way to make plays and get to the quarterback five times.
When I read about Jones shortly after the Patriots claimed him I figured he'd provide some depth along the defensive line and perhaps carve out a role as a situational pass rusher. Since the injuries forced him into action he's barely left the field at all.
I'm not sure how any player could have exceeded expectations any more than Jones did in the first half.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll.