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Curran: Why New England's defense will be a key to Mac's growth in 2022

NBC Sports
Nelson Agholor

Quarterbacks drive the conversation in the NFL and we’re never going to stop bringing up all things Mac Jones.

But the Patriots' fortunes rest less with McCorkle and more with a revamped defense that can’t afford to do what last year’s group did -- flop early and ask the offense to pick them up.

Julian Edelman brought this up last week when he appeared on the I Am Athlete podcast.  After first noting Tom Brady benefited from having a star-laden defense that rarely got pantsed in Brady’s early years, Edelman pointed out that Jones doesn’t seem to. And he wondered how that will impact the second-year quarterback.

Robert Griffin III has high expectations for Mac Jones entering 2022

"The thing that I’m worried about with the Patriots: Is their defense gonna be there to allow Mac to have this slow progression into becoming what he becomes?" asked Edelman.

It really is the key question for 2022. Can a unit that was shutdown against poop offenses in 2021 (Jets twice, Panthers, Falcons, Browns, Jaguars) and porous against competent ones play better in 2022?

 

Before you answer "yes," understand they’ll be trying to do that after shedding their best defender (J.C. Jackson) and almost all of their established experience at linebacker (Donta Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins). It’s a stretch. Especially early. Which means Jones and the Patriots offense could be stretching to keep pace. As they had to in most of their eight 2021 losses.

Let’s go to the box scores!

In the season opener, Miami scored first. Even though the Patriots evened it in an eventual 17-16 loss, the Dolphins' touchdowns opening each half had the defense remove the safety net for the offense a little bit.

In Week 3 against the Saints, New Orleans turned a 14-0 lead early into a 21-3 lead in the second half and cruised. Over before it started against Jameis Winston. Can’t have it.

The Patriots erased a 22-9 deficit and came back to beat a bad Houston team.

Then they lost a shootout to Dallas when the Cowboys rolled up 567 yards of offense. That’s a lot.

In the Patriots' best win of the season in Los Angeles, they erased a 7-0 deficit against the Chargers. After pounding bad or injury-riddled opponents for four weeks and dealing with the Bills in the bizarro wind game, the Patriots were 9-4 heading into the bye.

Then they face-planted over and over again down the stretch. They fell behind Indy 20-0. They fell behind the Bills 20-7. They got down to the Dolphins in the regular-season finale 17-0. Then they no-showed in the playoffs against the Bills, falling behind 27-0.

Are the Patriots better now than they were then? We start the process of finding out at the end of the month.