The 2013 Seattle Seahawks proved that defense does indeed still win championships. The Denver Broncos of 2013 were the highest scoring offense in the history of the National Football League, yet Pete Carroll, Richard Sherman, and the Seattle Seahawks made them look like nothing more than a mediocre Pop Warner team. While it is the secondary that gets all of, or at least most of the credit, the defensive line was a huge part of that Super Bowl team.
Pete Carroll built his defensive line so he could have six to seven capable starters who would constantly rotate to keep all of them fresh. With that strategy, Carroll used the likes of Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons, Michael Bennett, Red Bryant, Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel, and Brandon Mebane to put his plan into action. All of those players played around 50% of the defensive snaps on the year, with Michael Bennett being on the field the most, at 57.5% of the time.
To put that into perspective, the New England Patriots had four defensive linemen who were all on the field more than Michael Bennett was. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were both on the field for more than 95% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps. While the Patriots were plagued with injuries including season ending injuries to key defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, there is no reason to believe that the defensive ends would have seen significantly less time than they did.
With Wilfork and Kelly both coming off major injuries, Armond Armstead attempting to finally make it onto the football field, and rookie Dominque Easley coming off another torn ACL, there are definitely question marks along the line; however, the direction that Bill Belichick is going is clear. He is building his defensive line similarly to the way Carroll built his in Seattle.
With the running game becomes less and less relevant in the NFL, interior pass rush is becoming more and more important. If you can put pressure on the quarterback from the interior, in addition to the edge, you have a recipe for success. Kelly is a pass rushing defensive tackle and, while we have not seen Armstead or Easley yet, they are both put in that category as well. They also added former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith to the rotation on the outside.
Assuming all of those players stay healthy, which is never a given, the Patriots will have a rotation comprised of Wilfork, Kelly, Armstead, Easley, Jones, Ninkovich, and Smith. Those are seven capable starters who can rotate to keep everybody fresh.
Like I said, injuries can happen. Luckily, the Patriots have even more depth along the line. Joe Vellano and Chris Jones both played over 57% of the defensive snaps last season, and neither of those two were even mentioned in the rotation proposed above. Could the Patriots decide to carry up to nine or ten linemen? It is entirely possible; Bill has done crazier things. He carried an unheard of four quarterbacks in 2000, just because he wanted to keep some sixth round pick named Brady on the roster.
If all of those linemen stay healthy and achieve what is expected of them, the Patriots will actually have one of the best and freshest defensive lines in the league. Add in the fact that they now have their own shutdown cornerback in Darrelle Revis, and it is entirely possible that the Patriots end up with a top three defense in 2014. However, while they could be a top defense, it is not a certainty so despite what you just read, is not yet time to compare the Patriots defense, that we have not even seen on the field yet, to the Super Bowl champions; however, all of the pieces are there for Belichick to bring a championship back to New England.