4. Briefly looking at Jamie Collins
These fades are intended to be somewhat quick-fire thoughts on subjects, so I’m not going to delve into any specifics regarding Jamie Collins. But I will say that I was incredibly impressed with his play against the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos in the playoffs, and his play against the run was especially notable. He came out of the draft and out of training camp with touted coverage ability, pass rushing ability, and a real penchant for finding the ball and making plays. Collins backed those three traits up in those two games, and he also answered lingering questions about his run defense. It’s no secret that impending free agent middle linebacker Brandon Spikes is one of the best run defenders in the league, and his elite run D makes up for some shoddy pass coverage (he’s also a really nice interior blitzer). Collins’s huge games against Indy and Denver have shown that the Patriots likely made a big “hit” on the Southern Miss prospect in the second round, and Pepper Johnson‘s enthusiasm for Collins in the offseason has certainly been backed up.
Even though Johnson is gone, Collins is definitely here to stay, and he’s likely made Spikes obsolete. There’s no doubt that Spikes is a very good player and was a catalyst for the defense over the past couple of seasons, but Collins is much cheaper and a more well-rounded linebacker. Plus, Collins figures to fit best at OLB, which would allow solid former first-round pick Dont’a Hightower to shift inside and play the “Mike”, as he could be a more natural fit in the middle. Either way, Collins has shown the versatility to play just about anywhere, so none of that should be an issue.
5. Pass Rushing Numbers
In all honestly, I think the biggest problem for the New England Patriots over the past two seasons has been their lack of a pass rush, and they tried to address that last offseason by drafting “elephant” prospects Collins and Michael Buchanan, as well as signing Armond Armstead and Tommy Kelly to improve the league’s worst interior pass rush in 2012. Armstead was never able to see the field due to an infection but figures to be one to watch in 2014, while Kelly had a very strong season before it was cut short in just his fifth game. Chandler Jones posted bigger numbers in his second season, but the uber-talented DE still needs to do a better job of putting consistent pressure on the QB. Rob Ninkovich has always been known for nice sack totals and is arguably the best 4-3 DE in the NFL against the run due to his technique and football IQ (as well as functional strength), but he simply isn’t athletic enough to consistently put pressure on the QB either.
Both Jones and Ninko are locked in as starters, and the pass rush should be solid next season with improved health from the DTs and more strides in Jones’s third season. But that being said, I wonder if the Patriots would be inclined to add a No. 3 DE to use significantly as a pass rusher, especially to spell Ninko in some cases in order to bring on a more athletic, explosive rusher. Buchanan could be that guy, Collins could move from LB to DE, or the Patriots could add a DE this offseason. I think it’s something to watch for.
Anyway, below are some assorted stats and facts regarding the Patriots pass rush last season.
2. The New England Patriots had a significantly negative pass rushing grade from the Pro Football Focus, with seven defensive linemen grading “in the red”. The lowest grade? Chris Jones.
3. The Pats had the sixth-most sacks recorded as a percentage of their opportunities, per Pro-Football Reference.
4. With 11.5 sacks, Jones led the Pats, and Ninko and Chris Jones rounded out the top three with eight and six sacks respectively.
5. Jamie Collins looked really good as a pass rusher in limited opportunities, but this obviously counts as more of an observation than an actual stat/fact.
6. Among 52 qualifiers at 4-3 DE with at least 25% of the team’s pass-rushing snaps, Ninkovich and Jones were the 14th and 27th-most productive pass rushers in the NFL according to PFF’s “Pass Rushing Productivity”.
7. Among 63 qualifiers at defensive tackle (same criteria as above), Chris Jones and Joe Vellano were 43rd and 44th respectively in PRP.
If Kelly and Armstead can start and stay healthy next season, then the Patriots should be in good shape when it come to getting after the QB, especially if they can add one more guy at either DT or DE.