The Patriots have never been a team that has been overly concerned with statistics. This has been especially true for Bill Belichick when discussing quarterback sacks.
The coach has often referenced the need for pressure, and timely pressure, rather than being concerned with the overall numbers.
That being said the 2017 Patriots defense operated in reverse fashion. While the total number of sacks was not bad, finishing tied for seventh in the league with 42, the team in general seemed to struggle getting pressure when it needed to and that was most evident in the Super Bowl.
Nick Foles wasn't sacked and barely rushed despite dropping back 43 times, and the defense couldn't get off the field as a result. That was not the case when the Patriots saw Foles and the Eagles last Thursday, and it wasn't the case in the exhibition opener against Washington either.
The Patriots applied plenty of pressure in each game, totaling 11 sacks in the two wins including eight against the Eagles. Belichick didn't get into specifics when asked about the uptick in pressure this summer, but he did mention the cohesion of the defensive line, with a blend of experience, youth and newcomers, as being beneficial thus far.
"Overall it's a pretty young group on the defensive line and I'd say a couple of the guys that have more experience like Adrian [Clayborn] and Lawrence [Guy], Malcom [Brown], Danny [Shelton], some have been with our team and some haven't, but they've played in the league," Belichick said. "Those guys have been good in terms of giving guidance and direction, setting a good example in work ethic and preparation and technique, things like that.
"The young guys that have less playing time have worked hard and very diligently with a number of different people. I think they've all made a lot of progress. It's good. We'll just keep competing and see how far it goes and see how it goes."
One key figure in the strong play has been Clayborn. After spending seven years in the league – four with Tampa Bay and three in Atlanta – he understands that summer success doesn't always translate to the regular season. But he has made a connection with his new teammates, both young and old, and believes that has helped both sides.
"They've been accepting of the new guys like me and Danny," he said. "They've taken the advice I've given as far as being in the league for a while and they've been helping me out as far getting to learn this defense quickly. So, it's been working out."
One of the younger guys Clayborn reference is Deatrich Wise. In his second year, Wise was surprised to see how well both young and old have worked together for the good of the team.
"I believe that it doesn't matter if it's an old vet or a rookie, we still find a way to mend together and build that chemistry," Wise said. "That's one thing I saw when I got here about the organization. When you get here you have no choice but to bond with your brothers.
"Adrian Clayborn brings an insight to the game that only a vet could bring. He's been in the league for quite some time now and the way he sees certain things and the way he can set up certain things in order to benefit his moves and his style of play, he's brought that to us. When he tells you things sometimes I'm like, 'I really didn't see it that way.' That's what he brings to the game – his experience and his intelligence to the game."
As for the early onslaught on opposing quarterbacks, Clayborn was predictably measured. While he didn't get too excited about the sack totals based on the time of year, he did feel there were some things that could be carried over once the regular season kicks off in September.
"It's just preseason but the best part about it is it's been working well and we're communicating well," Clayborn said. "If we can carry that into the regular season and we continue to work hard that will hopefully carry on."