If we've learned anything from the last two Super Bowls it's that pressure wins. Pass-rush pressure, that is.
The Los Angeles Rams harassed Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback Joe Burrow last February in Super Bowl LVI, sacking him seven times and creating pressure on 18 of 42 (43 percent) drop-backs. A year earlier in Super Bowl LV, it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that swarmed Patrick Mahomes into discomfort by pressuring him on 55 percent (31 of 56) of his throws.
When given time, Burrow and Mahomes are deadly. When pressured, they're mortal.
The New England Patriots were reminded of this harsh lesson last season during a humiliating 30-point playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills. With zero pass rush - no sacks and minimal pressure - on Josh Allen, the Bills' star quarterback riddled the Patriots' secondary for 308 yards and five touchdowns while completing an uncanny 21 of 25 passes.
Void of a pass rush, the Patriots became the first defense in NFL playoff history to not force a punt, field goal or turnover. The Bills scored touchdowns on all seven possessions.
So are they going to be better in 2022? Did defensive guru Bill Belichick do enough to improve New England's pass rush this offseason?
According to the analytics folks at Pro Football Focus, nope.
In its rankings released this week, PFF places the Patriots' defensive line near the bottom of the barrel. Says PFF of ranking New England No. 23:
Matthew Judon is never going to crack the elite tier of edge rushers, but he can be relied on to play the run and provide a steady stream of pressure. Judon has recorded at least 35 pressures in each of the last five seasons. The way that this Patriots’ defensive front rises up the rankings is with big jumps from Christian Barmore, Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins. Barmore, in particular, has an opportunity for a big 2022 season. His 48 quarterback pressures as a rookie were over 10 more than any other rookie interior defensive lineman in the last five seasons.
While PFF ranks Aaron Donald and the Rams No. 1 and the Washington Commanders' 1-2 punch of Chase Young and Montez Sweat as second-best in the league, it realizes that for the Patriots to impose their will on opposing quarterbacks they'll have to get big improvements from Judon and Barmore and perhaps a surprising leap by another player or two.
As for the AFC East, PFF ranks the Bills 13th, Dolphins 15th and Jets 16th.