It didnt take long for the Patriots to show off their newfound commitment to defense this season.
Early in the second quarter of the Patriots season-opener at Tennessee, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones blew past Titans tackle Michael Roos and sacked Jake Locker, causing a fumble near the Titans goal line. Rookie linebacker Donta Hightower scooped up the loose ball at the 6-yard line and barreled into the end zone for a Patriots touchdown.
Jones and Hightower were both first-round draft picks, the anchors of a Patriots 2012 draft class designed to shore up a defense that ranked 31st in the league last season, (411.1 yards allowed per game).
New England, which visits the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night, had four picks in the first three rounds of the April draft, and they used all of them as well as their next two picks -- on defensive players.
Long known for trading down in the draft, Bill Belichick and the Patriots instead traded up not once, but twice, in the first round to aggressively bolster their defense.
First, the Patriots traded with Cincinnati to move up six spots to No. 21, where they grabbed Jones, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive lineman out of Syracuse and the younger brother of Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones. Then, they jumped up six spots to get Denvers No. 25 pick, which they used on Hightower, the 6-foot-3, 270-pound former Alabama linebacker -- and Courtney Upshaw's former teammate -- who was also coveted by the Ravens.
The Patriots, who had two first-round picks in that draft because of a 2011 trade, gave up a third-round pick in the Jones deal and gave the Broncos a fourth-round pick as part of the Hightower trade.
We liked those guys a lot, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at his media session on Wednesday. Those guys are guys we had ranked very highly, so when they took (each of) those guys, theres one less good player on the board.
Jones and Hightower are both starters, and safety Tavon Wilson from Illinois, the Patriots second-round pick, is a backup at safety. Wilsons emergence is one reason the Patriots released James Ihedigbo, now with the Ravens.
Through the first two games, Hightower has 13 tackles and the fumble recovery touchdown, and Jones has 11 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles.
The Patriots (1-1) suffered a stunning 20-18 loss to Arizona at home last week, but the defense ranks second in the league, allowing 264.5 yards per game. Yes, its early, but thats an improvement of more than 100 yards a game from a year ago.
When you add two first-round picks and theyre both starting, its for a reason, Ravens running back Ray Rice said. Those guys are playing really well.