New England Patriots: Ranking the top 5 defenses of the 21st century

Kyle Van Noy #53 of the New England Patriots celebrates with his teammates Terrence Brooks #25, Stephon Gilmore #24 and Matthew Slater #18 (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Kyle Van Noy #53 of the New England Patriots celebrates with his teammates Terrence Brooks #25, Stephon Gilmore #24 and Matthew Slater #18 (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /
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New England Patriots
Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images) /

New England Patriots top defense No. 1: 2019

It’s a shame the Patriots didn’t have the offense to compliment what was easily the best defensive unit in not just this century, but the history of the franchise. It’s a shame that this season will be remembered as the end of the Tom Brady era in New England rather than an ode to just how good this defense was, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.

The Patriots finished 1st in DVOA and overall defense in 2019, which shows you right off the bat how dominant this squad was. Just Dont’a Hightower and Stephon Gilmore earned Pro Bowl nods (Gilmore also made the All Pro team too), but there certainly should have been more. This also can be seen as a testament to just how deep this defense was.

Let’s start with Gilmore, who put together one of the greatest single season performances by a cornerback in NFL history. Gilmore picked off six passes, returned two of them for touchdowns, and defended 20 more passes that came his way, which led the league. Why opposing teams were targeting Gilmore so much remains to be understood.

A deeper look at the numbers show just how good Gilmore was in 2019. For starters, opponents completed just 50.5 percent of their passes when Gilmore was in coverage. Even when they connected, it was rarely for much, as Gilmore didn’t allow a single touchdown all season long. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 44.1, which is pretty much unheard of.

Gilmore led one of the deepest secondaries that Foxboro has ever seen. Devin McCourty and J.C. Jackson both intercepted five passes on the season to go along with Gilmore’s six. Jason McCourty typically locked things down on the opposite side of Gilmore, and Jonathan Jones manned the slot. Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon rounded of the safety depth chart, and it’s easy to see how this secondary was nearly impenetrable.

Moving to the linebackers, we find ourselves “The Boogeymen”, also known as Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins. All three had the best seasons of their career, and it’s not a stretch to say each of them were deserving of making the Pro Bowl this season.

Hightower picked up 71 tackles, 5.5 sacks, eight tackles for a loss, 13 QB hits, and a touchdown along the way. Van Noy had 56 tackles, six sacks, 10 tackles for a loss, 10 QB hits, three forced fumbles, and a touchdown. Collins had 81 tackles, seven sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 10 QB hits, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, and like his fellow linebackers, one touchdown. These guys were simply dominant.

The defensive line didn’t really have anyone that stood out, but it really didn’t matter because of how impactful the rest of the team was. Lawrence Guy was easily the lines best run defender, and John Simon chipped in four sacks off the edge.

There was just no weakness on this defense. They ranked in the top ten in yards allowed per game in both passing and rushing on the season, and you just couldn’t find a way to move the ball on them consistently.

Next. Ranking the Pats best AFC Championship of the 21st century. dark

As mentioned before though, this team is basically ignored by Patriots fans because of what happened in the aftermath. It’s a shame, because this team should go down as one of the best defenses in league history. Instead, they will most likely become a relic of time, and subject to a number of what-ifs or what-could-have-beens.

Who knows though; maybe the 2021 team can right the wrongs of the 2019 squad, and we will be updating this list in a couple months with a new entrant.