FOXBORO - The New England Patriots are set to enter the 2022 NFL season hoping to improve both their run and pass defense.
Despite having made improvements to each area during the previous offseason, New England continued its struggles into the regular season, as well as the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills in January. While second-team All-Pro cornerback J.C. Jackson helped to keep New England’s secondary respectable, the team’s front seven became the subject of much criticism.
Much to the chagrin of the masses, New England failed to acquire an impact player along the defensive line thus far in the 2022 offseason. Instead, it appears to be relying on its in-house talent to return their defensive front to at least an adequate level of performance.
One player who may provide the Pats with a bit ‘extra bang for their buck’ is seven-year veteran defensive tackle Henry Anderson.
Anderson arrived in New England after signing a two-year deal with the team in 2021, with the potential of being worth up to $11 million. However, the 6-6, 301-pound lineman played a limited role in the Pats' defense, compiling only three solo tackles. In each of his first four games with the Pats, Anderson played three, 18, 11, and three snaps respectively.
It should be noted that his lack of playing time last season was largely due to injury. Anderson left during the first half of New England’s Week 4 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, having suffered an apparent chest injury. He was listed as questionable to return almost immediately upon leaving the game. Prior to the start of the second half, it was announced that Anderson would not return. Two days later, Anderson was diagnosed with a torn pectoral, which ended his season.
Though the 30-year-old had been mentioned as a potential candidate for either trade or release, the Patriots and Anderson agreed to a reworked contract in March. The new deal will pay him a base salary of $1.25 million; a reduction from the $2.5 million he earned in 2021. However, Anderson can make up the salary difference through playtime incentives, which are easier to reach than those that were in his initial deal. In turn, the Patriots added $1.25 million in cap space.
While his sample size of action in a Patriots uniform is limited, Anderson has the chance to become a difference maker along the Patriots’ defensive line. Having spent three seasons in the AFC East, the former New York Jet is well-versed in the numerous offensive schemes within the division. He also has proven himself capable of playing all over the defensive front, having aligned everywhere from the 9-technique [edge] spot to the 0-technique [nose] position. With New England having struggled in defending mobile quarterbacks, the Pats will likely look to move Anderson around the line, to help create favorable matchups for him.
At his best, Anderson is a stout run defender, as well. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated great skill when moving quickly into position to stop the run. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he posted the third-highest run-stuff rate among players with at least 500 defensive snaps in 2020. His presence was expected to help bolster a Patriots line, which had its problems against the run in 2020. In 2022, his most significant contributions to New England’s defense will likely come against the run.
Anderson has also performed well against the pass, routinely applying pressure to the quarterback. Prior to becoming one of the Jets’ premier run defenders, he notched seven sacks and 16 quarterback hits in 2018. If healthy, Anderson should provide an extra boost to the Patriots pass defense, in addition to his prowess as a run defender.
During Patriots’ training camp in 2021, Anderson showed flashes of the talent which earned him a lucrative contract from New England just one year ago. As such, his skill set and potential have seemingly brought him back to Foxboro for at least one more season.
Still, Anderson must be up to the challenge, as the Patriots head toward the start of training camp on July 26.
He will face significant competition in his attempt to earn a roster spot from fellow defensive tackles Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Christian Barmore, Carl Davis, Byron Cowart, Daniel Ekuale, Bill Murray, as well as rookies Sam Roberts and LaBryan Ray.