One of the lingering disappointments for the Patriots in Super Bowl LII was the failure to generate a consistent pass rush on Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. While it was only preseason, Thursday night’s rematch offered a new narrative.
The Patriots pressured Foles (as well as backups Nate Sudfeld and Joe Callahan) for much of the game, leading to a 37-20 win. Without the intricacies of a regular season game plan (for either team), the preseason clash was a simpler contest.
It was one-on-one competition. In that regard, the Patriots defensive line won.
On the Eagles’ opening drive, Foles was sacked on third down by a blitzing Patrick Chung. Though a safety, Chung is a physical presence capable of rushing the quarterback.
On the play itself, it was also pressure from the opposite side by both Adrian Clayborn and Derek Rivers that helped cause the sack.
And on the Eagles’ final drive, their evening was closed out by another Patriots sack, this time from backup Keionta Davis.
It was symbolic of New England’s start-to-finish performance against Philadelphia’s offensive line. The Patriots sacked Foles three times, Sudfeld four times, and Callahan once. No Eagles quarterback escaped the rush.
Turnovers leading to touchdowns
On top of the consistent pass rush ending Philadelphia drives throughout the game, the Patriots also managed to generate a pair of turnovers.
The first one ended with a touchdown, as Clayborn’s strip sack was picked up by rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley, who ran it back 54 yards.
Strip sack! Recovery!
— NFL (@NFL) August 17, 2018
The second turnover came from a seemingly fortuitous bounce off Eagles running back Matt Jones’s helmet, falling nicely into the hands of Patriots linebacker Christian Sam.
Yet the throw was clearly delivered early by Sudfeld. And on the replay, it’s evident that the Patriots’ rush forced Sudfeld’s hand. The Patriots scored on the ensuing drive, thanks to some nice footwork (and speed) from Cordarrelle Patterson.
That juke though.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 17, 2018
A “diversity” of pass rushers
The interesting part about New England’s pass rush is that it’s not exactly expected to excel this season, according to analysts. Aside from Trey Flowers, the Patriots don’t have established rushers.
But it’s evident from Thursday night that there’s a wealth of talent in the defensive line.
“I think the most exciting part is the diversity,” defensive end Adam Butler said discussing what he likes about the team’s front seven. “There are so many people that can do a lot of different things. You’ve got some guys who can rush inside and outside. Some guys who are just very talented on the edge and to watch everybody come out and show their skills tonight is amazing.”
Clayborn is a 30-year-old free agent signing, while Butler, Rivers Deatrich Wise, and Davis are all young players trying to tap into their potential. Rookies like Bentley and Trent Harris are also trying to make their mark.
Added together with veterans like Flowers, Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy (as well as interior linemen), the Patriots have an array of potential pass rushers.
Whether that can be translated to the regular season remains to be seen, but New England’s defensive line showed healthy signs against the defending Super Bowl champions.