Patriots’ goal on defense is to keep turning up the pressure
FOXBOROUGH — Sacks are fun.
Celebrating sacks? Well, that can be just as fun.
After converging on the quarterback, the Patriots’ defense converges on the sideline to deconstruct their deconstruction.
“It’s a very celebratory situation — it’s a very happy conversation,’’ Deatrich Wise said Wednesday. “We watch the replay together [on the scoreboard] and we give each other love.’’
The love has been spreading steadily lately as the New England pass rush continues to improve while getting contributions from every level of the defense.
The front seven provides most of the heat, but the defensive backs also have been able to get in on the act. No matter who actually gets statistical credit for the sack, it takes everyone minding their P’s and Q’s to put consistent pressure on the quarterback.
“Most definitely, we have to work well together,’’ said defensive end Adrian Clayborn. “I mean, you can get all the pressure you want, but if you don’t have the DBs covering, it doesn’t work. If you’re not pressuring, then you’re leaving the DBs out to dry.’’
Patriots defensive honcho Brian Flores concurred and said every group has to complement the other in order to achieve the desired result.
“Any time you can sack the quarterback, that’s great,” said Flores. “With that, when you’re sacking him, you’re pressuring him, and I think no quarterback likes having pressure on the edge or up the middle.
“So, yeah, I value pressures a lot, and I think that goes a long way toward marrying a rush and the coverage and playing really good defense.’’
Clayborn has been one of the most effective pressure players for the Patriots. The 6-foot-3-inch, 280-pounder lines up on the defensive right side and often his first obstacle to the quarterback is a massive left tackle. Clayborn is a speed-rushing specialist. His patented move is dipping his shoulder into his blocker and driving him backward into the pocket and hopefully the quarterback.
Clayborn has 2½ sacks on the season but he has landed a team-high 10 hits on the quarterback to go along with untold pressures. While sacks are the sexy stat, Clayborn said as long as he’s affecting the play, he’s a happy man.
“Hits, pressures, making him get off his spot, making him step up or step back or miss a read — all of those come together to disturb the quarterback,’’ said Clayborn. “All of it helps — but obviously the sack is the ultimate goal.’’
And just what is that feeling like?
“It’s the greatest, because you just know you made a big play for your defense,’’ said Clayborn. “That’s what’s most satisfying.”
Clayborn is not the most vocal guy, but the eighth-year veteran has embraced a leadership role in his first season in New England. The Patriots’ defensive line features a bunch of younger players who have looked to and leaned on Clayborn, who has 32½ career sacks.
“He’s always helping us out with pass-rush techniques,” said Wise, who leads the Patriots with 3½ sacks to go along with nine quarterback hits. “He has a lot of wisdom, and any small thing he says, we listen to.
“He’s helped us out with the timing of how we play, when to use different moves and how to use them. He doesn’t say a lot, but what he says is very impactful and meaningful to us.’’
Clayborn said the knowledge goes both ways and he’s benefited from being around his younger teammates.
“We help each other out,’’ said Clayborn. “They helped me out with just getting to know the system and I’ve helped them out with some veteran leadership-type things.’’
Clayborn said the main goal now is to finish the season strong, and that begins Sunday with a game against the Jets in the Meadowlands.
New York’s quarterback situation is unsettled with rookie Sam Darnold’s status up in the air as he battles a foot injury. Josh McCown will fill in if Darnold can’t go. Clayborn said the Patriots’ preparations won’t vary much because of the two signal-callers’ similarities.
“It’s not really too difficult, because they both run the same system,’’ he said. “It’s not like one’s a running quarterback and one’s a passing quarterback. They both do the same thing. The big thing is preparing for the system.”
Despite New York’s woes this season — the Jets are 3-7 and are in the midst of a four-game slide — he’s seen plenty on tape to know this will be a challenge.
“They’ve got great running backs who run the ball hard and a good offensive line that works well together and they’ve got wide receivers who can catch the ball,” said Clayborn. “So it’s a good system.”