The Patriots got to opposing quarterbacks at a rate that ranked them 7th in the league in sacks last season.
In 2020, it's quite a contrast.
In 2019 it was Jamie Collins that led the team in sacks with 7. He is now with the Lions and former Patriots defense coordinator Matt Patricia after signing a 3-year free agent contract in the off-season.
Behind Collins on the sack rankings for the Patriots last season was Kyle Van Noy, who had 6 sacks. He is now in Miami and playing with former Patriots defensive coordinator Briann Flores.
Defensive Tackle Adam Butler finished with 6 sacks last season and will be back with the Patriots this season to help put pressure on their opponents passers in 2020.
Butler is 6'5" and 300lbs and he is only 26-years old with good years ahead of him.
This will be his 4th season with the Patriots and has improved in each season along the way. He will be heavily relied on as far as getting into the offensive backfield and pick-up some of those sacks left on the table by the departures of Collins and Van Noy.
Ending the 2019 season with 5.5 sacks was ILB Dont'a Hightower. He is still with the team but has opted-out of the 2020 season due to his Covid-19 concerns.
That is probably the biggest hit this team will take this season, other than maybe the loss of Tom Brady.
Hightower has been one of the most productive and consistent players they've had over the last seven seasons, even though his sack numbers aren't always there.
He's a great run-stuffing linebacker who does have some versatility and enough quickness and experience to blitz with success when called upon to do so.
Also finishing last season with 5.5 sacks was Defensine End Chase Winovich.
Winovich is back in 2020 and will also be a big factor in how successful their defense at getting to opposing QB's.
Winovich, at 6'-3" and 250lbs, can also play at Outside Linebacker and he too has good positional flexibility.
He was a rookie last season after being drafted in the 3rd-round and shows a lot of promise at developing into a quality pass-rusher at the NFL level.
Winovich is currently listed as a back-up Left Defensive End behind Deatrich Wise Jr., but he will get plenty of opportunities this season, especially on passing downs, as Wise only had two sacks last year.
After taking these defensive losses into account Yardbarker.com has ranked this defensive unit at #24 in the league when it comes to its ability to sack opposing QB's, and this is what they had to say.....
"The Patriots let their top two sackers last season — linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van-Noy defect to ex-Patriot strongholds (Detroit and Miami) in free agency. They also lost hybrid rusher/front-seven anchor (Dont'a Hightower) to an opt-out. Bill Belichick has managed to scrape together a few potent pass rushes, but his team is incredibly thin here. The Patriots will likely give second-year edge Chase Winovich more work, and Winovich's ex-Michigan teammate — second-rounder Josh Uche — could be needed too. Defensive tackle Adam Butler broke through last year (six sacks); the Pats will need even more from him now."
Bill Belichick is known for his defensive game plans and will have to scheme ways to help get this current group of defenders into the opposing backfield.
The team faces its toughest schedule it has seen in quite some time, and the list of QB's they will face this season includes Russell Wilson, Pat Maholmes, Jimmy Garoppolo, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen.
They will need to help their secondary by pressuring these QB's or else this defensive unit could see quite a fall-off when it comes to defensive ranking as a whole.
They finished 2019 as the top defense with a league-best yards against and points surrendered. I don't see this 2020 Patriots defense finishing in the top-10 this year, but I wouldn't count Belichick out when it comes to some sort of surprise every week in an effort to aid this pass-rush group.
Look for blitzes from defensive backs and some crazy hybrid defensive fronts in an attempt to confuse offensive lines and blocking schemes as Belichick tries to get his front-7 any advantage he can.