|Trey Flowers sacking Rodgers (NFL.com)|
We saw blanket coverage by Malcolm Butler, a pass rush from the likes of Trey Flowers and Jabaal Sheard, and some stout run defense from the rest of the line. Robert McClain showed several flashes in coverage and in run support. Logan Ryan got beat, but also contributed with some pass break ups. Rookie Daryl Roberts was tasked with covering the likes of Jordy Nelson with the one's, showing Belichick's willingness to test and push him.
Overall as a unit, the defensive line was able to get after the quarterback and make Rodgers uncomfortable in the pocket despite the game plan calling for him to not be allowed to scramble. Holding the Packers on 4th down several times, including a goal line stand, highlighted the "bend but don't break" defensive philosophy the Patriots have employed for years. Several times with the first defensive unit, the combination of tight coverage and defensive linemen getting after the quarterback shut down the Packers high octane offense.
Without two of their arguably best defensive players, to see the Patriots put together an effort like this is encouraging. Even with players out and the top unit limited, Belichick definitely didn't hide his feelings about certain players and how much they played. Players like Butler, Collins, Chandler Jones, and Rob Ninkovich didn't play much after the first series, where some players like Tavon Wilson and Logan Ryan played well into the 2nd half of the game.
Daryl Roberts and Trey Flowers both sustained injuries and did not return to the game, but both showed why the Patriots drafted them, combining for tight coverage and a sack of Rodgers. Fellow rookies Jordan Richards and Geneo Grissom contributed throughout the game and made plays. Even second year roster long shot Rufus Johnson made his presence felt before leaving with an injury.
If this unit can stay healthy and continue to improve, there is no reason to think this defense won't be able to bring the Patriots to the Super Bowl again. One thing for certain is that this defense will have more depth than it has in recent history. All around, there are a lot of promising signs around this defense, and that should give Patriots fan hope going forward.
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