Patriots defense will look the same this season. Do not expect many changes

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When Jerod Mayo took over for Bill Belichick in January, his primary focus when building his staff was on the offensive side of the ball. He could afford to focus on the offense because he knew the strength of his team would be on the defensive side of the ball.

It is not to say that Mayo did not care about the defense, he obviously does. He is a defensive guy after all but Mayo knew what he had on that side of the ball from a coaching and personnel standpoint. He did not want to change much. That is why he retained the majority of the defensive staff. 

Mayo hired former defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington as his defensive coordinator and retained Mike Pelligrino and Brian Belichick as his cornerbacks and safeties coaches. He wanted some continuity on defense because the majority of the scheme will remain the same.

Mayo talked about his relationship with Covington and why he felt he was a good fit as defensive coordinator.

”When  I first got here, he showed me a lot of the behind the scenes. It was a mentorship or reverse mentorship, however you want to look at it. I did it on the field, but he also knew how to do the back-end stuff. This is one of those guys as well – I’ve already talked about this being a relationship business – where he has a great relationship with the players, mind, body, and spirit. He always talks about those things. You can see from the development of the players in his room, he was ready for the job.”

Mayo did hire a new defensive line coach in Jerry Montgomery, a new inside linebackers coach in former Patriot Dont’a Hightower and a new outside linebackers coach in Drew Wilkins. The new coaches will bring in some new ideas but in the end, the Patriots will look and operate a lot like they did under Bill Belichick. Mayo and Covington will not fix something that is not broken.

The two men will tweak the system. I do think you will see more pressure. I think the Patriots will blitz more this season. The Patriots ranked 16th in the NFL in blitz percentage both in 2022 and 2023. They blitz roughly 30% of the time. I would expect them to be closer to 40% this season and they may crack the top ten in pressure percentage by seasons end. 

It is why the Patriots emphasized retaining their own players this off-season in free agency, especially on defense. Mayo felt the defense had the right pieces. The team re-signed Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche. They also agreed to long term extensions with Kyle Dugger Christian Barmore and Jahlani Tavai. Executive VP of Football Operations Eliot Wolf and Mayo strongly believe they have the right pieces in place defensively. 

Some have questioned the strategy given the fact that the Patriots have gone 8-9 and 4-13 the past two seasons but the defense has been good despite the team’s overall struggles and that is why ultimately, Mayo will prefer to maintain the status quo defensively.

The Patriots do have to figure out what they will do with Matt Judon and Jabrill Peppers long term. Both players contracts expire at the end of next season. I wouldn’t be surprised if both were extended especially Peppers.

Regardless of what the team does with Judon and Peppers, the scheme will stay the same. Expect the Patriots to be multiple in terms of fronts and coverages but I would also expect more pressure. They will be more aggressive, especially on third down. 

Mayo talked about the different situations and how to approach them defensively earlier this off-season. He also talked about his thinking in assembling his staff.

“ I’m not going to talk too much about football – but realistically, on early downs, you’re only going to get so many schemes. It’s really the third down stuff that you really see coaches start to shine. It was important. Anytime we played Cleveland or teams that – it was at the top of my mind when we played teams like that – you always wonder what are they thinking, and also, what are they thinking about us defensively. I feel like the net that we’ve cast, I will definitely learn a lot from these guys as well as we prepare for the opponents moving forward.”

Replacing Belichick’s experience and genius is impossible. That is not going to happen. The Patriots are well positioned however to continue to be successful on defense and keep the team in games. The Patriots will do what they always do but with a twist. 

Defense keeps you in games and can win you games. It is why the new staff is going to keep doing what has worked well for years. 

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