There was a time when the Patriots defense was so strong it basically lined up and dominated. During those years, which not coincidentally took place when New England was winning titles, Bill Belichick would periodically come up with some different schemes but he rarely sold out with the blitz.
But this is a different time. The Patriots defense has declined over the years and finished near the bottom of the league in terms of yards allowed in 2011. No longer are Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Rodney Harrison and Asante Samuel around to treat opposing offenses like their kid brother.
The story of the 2012 Patriots defense is still very much a work in progress. Newcomers like Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Steve Gregory have given some life and athleticism to the unit and the early indications have been promising. But there also was a troubling performance in Baltimore in which the group failed to generate much pressure on Joe Flacco and watched the Ravens put 31 points and more than 500 yards of offense on the board.
With little to no pass rush generated in a game that saw Baltimore play from behind almost exclusively, the idea of finding ways to be more aggressive was brought up. In turn, that possibility brought us to this week's Samsonite Make Your Case question:
Should the Patriots become more aggressive and blitz more on defense?
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
I understand the Patriots don't have the same level of talent on defense as they did when the team was winning Super Bowls. When you have smart, experienced players who are also among the best in the game at their positions, it's much easier to concoct exotic schemes with the knowledge that the players can handle them.
But watching the team sit back and hope for an opponent's mistake is growing increasingly frustrating to watch. I'd like to see Bill Belichick turn up the heat and dial up some different blitzes to better take advantage of his athletic linebacker corps. Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes all have the athleticism and versatility to take advantage of these types of situations. Why not turn them loose a bit and see if things improve.
The drawback of that would be further exposing a secondary that has struggled, but there's also the possibility that some added pressure could benefit the guys in coverage. The faster a quarterback has to get rid of the ball the less time the coverage has to remain tight. So by sending some extra rushers Belichick could actually make life easier on the secondary.
Obviously there's some risk involved, but sitting back and playing it safe hasn't worked all that well in recent years. It's time to cut the kids loose and let them go.
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
As much as everyone seems to be searching for answers, I don't see the reason for drastic changes at this point. The team lost a pair of games by a combined three points. Both games came down to last-second field goals. The second was a one-point loss on the road in a rematch of the AFC title game from last January. That game came against a team with arguably one of the two most balanced, well-rounded offenses the Patriots will face all season. And now we should do something that Bill Belichick has never really done in terms of becoming a blitzing team?
I understand that the pass rush hasn't been good enough – heck, Chandler Jones openly admitted that on Friday – and that has put suspect coverage in a bind in the back end. But blitzing would only put more pressure on a group of coverage guys who are trying to stay afloat as it is. It would open up more big plays, more scoring and more chances for losing games. I also don't think the team has a lot of personnel at either linebacker or in the defensive backfield that is all that proficient at blitzing. It's simply not a good idea.
But the bottom line reason not to become more blitz-heavy is that it's not what Belichick believes in. He's never been a defensive gambler over the years. He wants to make teams drive the ball down the field, not give them wide open receivers and big plays. This defense is young, talented and showing signs of improvement. It will get chances in the coming weeks to improve and build confidence against lesser offenses than what the Ravens presented. Stay the course, buy into the philosophy/scheme and continue to improve. There is no magic blitzing answer to what ails the Patriots defense. It's an overly simplistic fool's gold solution that could leave the New England defense looking even more foolish.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll.