As disappointing as the New England Patriots offense was in the 2022 NFL season, the defense was one side of the ball that made the explosive plays and kept this team at least knocking on the door of the playoffs. The man leading the defensive show in 2022 was Matthew Judon.
Talk about an investment that is paying off for Bill Belichick, at least through the first two years of his contract.
Signed to a four-year, $56 million contract prior to the 2021 NFL season, Judon has not only been a leader in sacks on the field, but he has also been a leader in the locker room and a clear fan favorite with his red sleeves and signature sack celebration.
New England Patriots edge rusher Matthew Judon a menace off the edge
There was plenty of those sack celebrations in 2022, as Judon followed up a strong 2021 season with 15.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod in 2022. With the emergence of Josh Uche on the other side along with solid play from Deatrich Wise Jr., the trio combined for 34.5 sacks and gave the Patriots’ defense that steady pash rush they have been looking for.
In Judon, the Patriots finally got that edge rusher opposing teams had to gameplan for sparked by his leadership on the field. He hasn’t quite reached the Lawrence Taylor pedestal in the eyes of Belichick, but the Patriots head coach has given Judon the praise of a skilled player who is impactful beyond the sacks.
"“Jude’s an instinctive player. He does a good job of getting vision on the ball and also taking the right angle or making the right decision based on where the blocker is, where the ball is, how fast the runner’s going, or what angle he’s at and so forth,” Belichick said, as transcribed by Fox Sports. “Those are football skills that are hard to coach because they happen so fast. It’s just a decision that the player has to make on the field in a split second.”"
That vision and instinct has led to quick a few big play sacks during the 2022 NFL season, but what also stood out about Judon is that he was able to make plays all over the field. Not only did he have opposing quarterbacks pedaling backwards, he contributed to the run defense, and you would also see him drop back in pass coverage. That versatility keeps him on the field all three downs and establishes him as a leader on the field.
While there are some questions entering the offseason on the defensive side, primarily the secondary, the Patriots have some studs in the front seven to build around.
Along with Judon, there is the emergence of Uche on the other side. In the middle, Christian Barmore should continue to grow as a force and on the second level, Ja’Whuan Bentley has established himself as a playmaker.
Coming off a career-season, it is Judon who is sparking the growth of those players above because of his impact. A definite positive in 2022, the Patriots and fans can look forward to even more of the leadership and sacks in 2023. They now once again have that special player off the edge.