FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – They're the talk of the NFL these days, and with Halloween season upon us, the Patriots' linebackers have one of the coolest and most appropriate nicknames of all time.
There are now logos and cartoon caricatures to accompany it. T-shirts and banners that have been printed. Touchdown celebrations choreographed and unveiled.
But who, exactly, invented "The Boogeymen" moniker? Inside 'backers coach Jerod Mayo has to think about it for a moment.
"I don't really know. We were just joking around in a meeting," he explains, "and it came out: The Boogeymen. And it's October. Perfect. Oh, it's a great nickname."
Though they haven't been perfect on the field, the Patriots linebackers have been pretty darn close to it through eight games this regular season. And that has inspired the rest of New England's defense, which is at or near the top of most statistical categories entering Week 9.
On average, they surrender just a touchdown a game (7.6 points, to be precise) – the only team in the NFL with a single-digit number in the points-per-game area. They're sacking the quarterback at a rate of better than one out of every 10 pass attempts (11.36 percent), virtually tied for second-best in the league at the moment.
New England owns the best interception rate (just shy of 7 percent), best third-down defense (15 percent), and best red zone and goal-to-go percentages in the NFL. Patriots defenders through eight games have scored almost as many touchdowns (four) as they've surrendered to opponents (five). The aggressive, play-making abilities of Boogeymen like Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Dont'a Hightower are not only creating scoring opportunities and game-altering plays for themselves, but for teammates as well.
"They are," outside linebacker coach DeMarcus Covington remarks. "It all starts back with practice – practice execution equals game reality. For us [as coaches], it's getting those guys prepared every week and doing it in practice. When they see it in practice and carry it over to the game – 'Oh, this is exactly how it showed up in practice.' – and having that communication in the meeting room and taking it out to the practice field, then to the grass on Sunday, makes those guys play fast and physical.
"The stuff you guys see on Sunday is really a credit to all the hard work they put in starting on Tuesday when they're preparing their bodies for the next game, getting a jump-start on the next opponent. Then coming in Wednesday, working Wednesday and Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Sunday is really when the fun happens."
"Yeah, it's a lot of fun," added Mayo. "Anytime you have guys that versatile, able to do a bunch of different things, it's fun to help game-plan those guys, put them in position to make plays. Those guys go out there and do a good job. A bunch of smart guys as well.
"All those guys can play inside, outside, all over the place. I think it puts a lot of stress on offenses, trying to figure out who's coming [with a blitz], who's not."
If there's one department where the D is somewhat vulnerable at this stage, it's in average rushing yards per play. New England allows 4.6 yards per carry, which ranks in the bottom third of the NFL (21st).
"It's only Week 9. It's a long season," Covington continues. "So, we're halfway done… just got to continue to work. That's what we focus on. I do know that if you put in hard work, create good habits day after day, week after week, good results will happen, more than bad results."
Of course, it's not just the linebackers who are doing all the work. New England has been able to take chances defensively thanks to a secondary that's playing at a high level and a defensive line that's keeping pace. Working in concert, all three phases are making individual plays and helping the unit as a whole have success on Sundays.
"Yeah, they're all playing well," declares Mayo. "Anytime you have a secondary that's playing that well, you can do those types of things."
"For a defense to be successful," Covington points out, "you really need all 11 guys to be doing their job. You hear that around here a lot – Do your job. It takes all 11 guys being on the same page, being able to communicate, to play whatever the call is, and trust one another that I'm going to do my job, you're going to do your job, and we come together at the end of the day and the job is done as a team. If each person wins their one-on-one battle… we should be good.
"Those guys go out there and play for one another. They have fun, which you can see on tape. It's a joy to see players make plays."