Adrian Phillips and Matthew Judon were named to USA Today's Touchdownwire All-Underrated team for the first half of the 2021 season by writer Doug Farrar, as the contributions from the two Patriots defenders have not gone unnoticed outside of New England. The Patriots are coming off one of their best defensive performances of the season against the Panthers and will be looking to keep things going against the Browns this weekend, where Judon and Phillips can be once again expected to play key roles.
Judon has been a pass-rushing terror in his first season with the Pats after signing a four-year free-agent deal last offseason. Farrar had earlier broken down how well Judon immediately fit into Bill Belichick's defensive scheme and now, after nine games, breaks down how Judon has only built on that solid start in the preseason. In his All-Underrated analysis, Farrar writes:
Bill Belichick loves defensive players who can succeed in multiple roles, but he also has a knack for putting those types of players in the best positions to succeed. In March, New England signed the former Ravens star, who lined up all over the place in Wink Martindale's blitz-happy defenses, to a four-year, $56 million contract, and Judon has done a lot to redefine the Patriots' defense ever since. It started in the preseason, when Judon single-handedly put spike strips all over Washington's offense, and it's been the case ever since. Judon ranks third in the NFL among edge defenders with 44 total pressures, and he's done so as more of a defined edge-rusher than his previous, more multi-faceted roles.
But more than the stats that Judon has put up, his off-the-field presence and sense of humor have provided a fresh perspective and a new edge to the defense. "The dude in the red sleeves" has been an excellent addition, continuing a string of hits that started last season with the free agency signing of Adrian Phillips.
Phillips led the team in tackles in 2020, making an immediate impact with his versatility to play all over the defense. In 2021, Phillips has built on that success, winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his two-interception performance that included a pick-six, against his former team, the Chargers.
Of Phillips, Farrar writes:
Far from a one-game wonder, Phillips has allowed just 12 receptions on 21 targets this season for 93 yards, 48 yards after the catch, one touchdown, three interceptions, one pass breakup, and an opponent passer rating of 44.4. Moreover, he's played excellent, meaningful snaps at the defensive line, in the box and slot, at deep safety, and even at outside cornerback.
Phillips is due to hit free agency in 2022, but in just two seasons has quickly assimilated into a prototypical Patriots defender who can play multiple roles and has a growing knack for making plays on the ball.
While they might be on the Underrated list, those who follow the Patriots closely should already be well aware of how good Judon and Phillips have been this season and their importance to the defense going forward.