Patriots 2022 offseason: Assessing the state of the defensive line

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Curran: Assessing the state of New England's defensive line originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The 2020 Patriots defense got more porous as the season went along and by the end of the year, running backs were going through them like poop through a goose.

That starts up front. The Patriots took measures in the 2021 offseason to make sure things slowed down -- signing Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson in free agency, re-signing Deatrich Wise and Lawrence Guy and drafting Christian Barmore.

The results? Better. But not great.

Curran's position evaluations: QBOL | WR | TE 

Rushing yards and yards per carry are normally decent indicators of how a defensive line’s performing. In the Patriots’ case, those stats are a little misleading because there were a number of games -- Chargers, Titans, Colts -- where explosive runs skewed the rushing numbers a bit. The Chargers ripped off runs of 75 and 28, Jonathan Taylor had a 67-yarder for the Colts and the Titans had a 68-yard touchdown run as part of their 270-yard rushing performance. It needs failure at all levels to have that occur.

Still, the numbers down the stretch indicate the Patriots repeated their late-season swoon against the run. In games 12 through 17, every opponent averaged more than four YPC. As mentioned, Tennessee had 270 yards on the ground. The Colts had 226. Most troublingly, Miami ran it 43 times for 195 yards in the regular-season finale and had stretches where they took the ball out of Tua Tagovailoa’s hands and decided to just run on New England. And it worked. The Dolphins won 33-24.

Multiple variables impact rushing numbers -- who’s on the field, matchups, score and situation -- but we’ve all heard it a few trillion times. Run defense starts up front.

Among interior defensive linemen, Barmore (598 snaps, 55.42 percent) and Godchaux (639 snaps, 59.22 percent) were on the field the most for the Patriots in 2021. Guy played 530 snaps (49.12 percent) and Wise played 521 (48.29 percent). Matt Judon was on the field the most on the edge and while he was a force in the pass rush for most of the year, his work against the run wasn’t outstanding. Carl Davis played 276 snaps as well (25.28). Anderson played 35 snaps in the first four games then was lost to injury.

Bright spots

Barmore was an obvious bright spot. He was a fantastic interior pass rusher, especially early in the season. He just folds pockets and creates havoc that leads to sacks even if he doesn’t record them himself (1.5 for the year). He had 48 total pressures according to PFF. He was ranked 14th league-wide among interior pass-rushers.

Godchaux, Guy and Davis were all steady against the run on the interior. Judon’s pass rush contributions were excellent. He had 12.5 sacks. Deatrich Wise gave his normal decent accounting of himself as a mid-tier player.

The disappointments

Judon has to be better against the run and play more disciplined in 2022. He said it himself. Too much freelancing and flying upfield creating seams that got exploited. The pass rush discipline was lacking too often. Barmore has to get better against the run as well. It was also a disappointment that Anderson wasn’t able to make any real contribution.

Contract status

Judon is in year two of his deal with an $11 million salary and a cap hit of $16.5 (highest on the team). Godchaux’s base is $6.5 million with $2.5 guaranteed. He’s got a $10.25 million cap hit. Wise will make $4 million in base and Guy will make just $2 million with a cap hit of $4.5. Barmore is still on his rookie deal.

Roster locks for 2022

All of the above appear destined to return, as does ERFA Daniel Ekuale.

Offseason priority (scale 1-5): 2

The pieces are there. They just have to perform with a touch more discipline in 2022. They have no free agents along the defensive front.