The New England Patriots' defense held the Miami Dolphins to a respectable 17 points in Week 1. But that doesn't necessarily mean the unit played well.
In fact, Rodney Harrison wasn't at all impressed with two thirds of the Patriots' defense Sunday. The former New England safety put the team's front seven on blast Thursday morning during NBC Sports' "Safety Blitz" show with Jac Collinsworth.
"I look at their defensive front seven, which is supposed to be stout, which is really supposed to be the strength of their team, and it was average," Harrison said.
"It wasn’t very good. I just didn’t see the consistent pressure. I didn’t see them stopping the run. I didn’t see those guys flying around. They looked slow. They didn’t really look energetic."
The Patriots' front seven entered 2021 with high expectations after Bill Belichick signed Pro Bowler Matthew Judon, brought back Kyle Van Noy and drafted Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins. With team co-captain Dont'a Hightower back in the mix after opting out of 2020 and Josh Uche enjoying a strong preseason, New England's front seven looked like a force to be reckoned with.
That's not the group Harrison saw at Gillette Stadium, though.
"This is supposed to be a faster, more athletic defense," Harrison added. "I was just really stunned by the Patriots’ front seven."
While Miami had just 259 total yards of offense, New England's defensive front was unable to get stops when it mattered: The Dolphins put together an opening touchdown drive of 80 yards in 10 plays and a second-half drive of nine plays for 75 yards which ended in the decisive touchdown of their 17-16 victory.
Hightower left the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent injury, which didn't help the Patriots' cause. Injuries aside, the veteran linebacker seemed to agree with Harrison's assessment.
"Obviously I want to play a lot better. Be a little bit more impactful," Hightower told reporters Thursday, via Boston.com, adding that the defense needs to "play faster" in Week 2 against the New York Jets.
There's still plenty of time for the Patriots' front seven to live up to its potential, beginning this Sunday in New York. But with top cornerback Stephon Gilmore out for at least the next five games on the physically unable to perform list, New England will need its defensive line and linebackers to turn things around quickly.