The New England Patriots entered the 2019 season coming off their third Super Bowl victory in the past five NFL seasons. With four trips to the Super Bowl in the last five years, ten consecutive AFC East championships and eight consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots continue to cement their legacy as the greatest dynasty in the 100 years of NFL history.
Of course, none of that past success matters as the Patriots are in a new season. There was significant turnover in the offseason once again on defense. New England lost the versatility, pass rush and run-stuffing ability of defensive end Trey Flowers. Flowers packed-up his pair of Super Bowl rings to join former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
To replace Flowers’ pass rush, the Patriots sent a late-round draft pick to Philadelphia for 33 year old Michael Bennett. Bennett may be eight years older than Flowers, but he is versatile as well, being able to line up anywhere on the defensive line. He is technically-sound and a pass rushing force that forces opponents to account for him every time he steps on the field.
The Patriots maintained much of their defense bringing back veteran defensive tackle Danny Shelton and keeping cornerback Jason McCourty on inexpensive, short-term deals. Tackle Malcom Brown left in free agency but New England expects an upgrade with more from young defensive tackle Adam Butler and rookie Byron Cowart.
The Patriots deep linebacking group gets last year’s preseason star Ja’Whaun Bentley back and also brought back old friend Jamie Collins to add to the already strong depth at the position. The draft restocked an already ridiculously deep secondary with second-round draft pick Joejuan Williams joining four starting-quality cornerbacks.
The Patriots crushed their AFC rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-3 on Sunday night. .
The game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV channel 4 in the greater Boston area and WPRI channel 12 in the greater Providence area. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines.
On the radio, Sunday’s game will be broadcast on 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network and all of the network’s 38 stations carry the game live. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci is back to call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who provides his own unique color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on defense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious.
The New England defense finished 2018 strong and picked-up right where it left off in 2019. After the Rams managed only a field goal in Super Bowl 53 the Patriots started 2019 by holding the Steelers to just three points.
The New England defense ends week one as the number one ranked defense in points allowed. They are ninth in yards allowed (308). The run defense especially stood out allowing just 32 yards (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
How do the Patriots plan to continue their strong defensive momentum in 2019?
Patriots’ Key Match-ups:
Dolphins’ Offensive Line vs Patriots’ Defensive Line:
Miami did not do quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick any favors as the Ravens’ defense harassed him consistently. MIami jettisoned both tackles this offseason and start a rookie at left guard. There is little depth and other than center Daniel Kilgore, there is little established talent.
The fellow licking his chops is Michael Bennett who was a consistent source of pressure last week against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Defensive end Deitrich Wise (who had a quiet preseason) nabbed New England’s only sack. Rookie Chase Winovich and former Raiders end Shilique Calhoun got extensive playing time and could be counted on to have a big role getting after the quarterback on Sunday.
Dolphins’ Running Backs vs Patriots’ Linebackers:
Miami’s hope will be to run the ball early against light fronts. Neither Kenyan Drake nor Kalen Ballege were able to get in a rhythm last week. Drake had just four carries for a dozen yards while Ballage had five carries but finished with negative yardage. Gaining just 21 yards rushing was a disaster for the Dolphins.
Danny Shelton looked like a different player at the end of 2018 and after getting minimal interest in free agency came back to the Patriots. He has lost some weight and gained back the quickness that eluded him in the NFL after being a first round draft pick. His ability to penetrate and disrupt the running game opens huge gaps for the linebackers to thrive. New England gets Kyle Van Noy back this week to team with Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Ja’Whaun Bentley.
Dolphins’ Pass Catchers vs Patriots’ Secondary:
Miami felt the talent drain at wide receiver as well this offseason. Gone is reliable Danny Amendola and top deep threat Kenny Stills. Former first round draft pick DeVante Parker gets yet another opportunity while former Chiefs slot receiver Albert Wilson is injured again and questionable. Behind those two are former sixth round draft pick Jakeem Grant and past-his-prime Allen Hurns. Inconsistent tight end Mike Gesicki may be the best passing option on the Miami offense.
New England deployed safety Patrick Chung on Vance McDonald last week and eliminated one of the top receiving tight ends from the game plan. The depth in the secondary is ridiculous with both McCourtys, Duron Harmon, JC Jackson, the recently extended Jonathan Jones, and Stephon Gilmore. Miami does not have the weapons to exploit these cornerbacks, but the unit must stay aggressive and alert with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick always looking for a game-changing long strike downfield.
The game plan on defense is simple for the Patriots: blanket the MIami wide receivers before they gain any confidence at home. Throw out last year’s “dime defense all the time” and have the deep linebacker group make an impact stopping the running game and generating pressure.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01