In a touching tribute to NBA icon Nate Robinson, the New England Patriots were repeatedly punched in the face by the Los Angeles Rams on national TV in a blowout that, for all intents and purposes, has knocked them out (of the playoff race).
While initial media blame has swarmed quarterback Cam Newton, the simple truth is that neither side of the ball performed well for the Patriots. All night, New England showed an inability to match the lateral speed of the Rams stretch rushing attack. While Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay showed an incredible array of creative rushing designs, it was apparent from the very first series that the Patriots had no interest in preserving the edge and containing the baseline outside zones necessary to establish the more advanced designs.
New England has primarily leaned on run-stopping personnel that includes edge rushers John Simon and rookie Anfernee Jennings — the only issue is that neither player has been very good at containing the edge. While Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is known for having a keen understanding of his players’ strengths and weaknesses, he seemingly refuses to address this very glaring issue, despite the straightforward solution.
In fact, the true tragedy of this New England defense is that they already have two incredible edge defenders that can play three downs: Chase Winovich and Josh Uche. While Winovich has seen a decent snap count, Uche has been primarily used as a third-down pass rusher.
Despite the lack of playing time, Uche has made eye-popping plays virtually every week — whether it’s containing a Kyler Murray scramble by matching him step for step in open space or whether it’s pass-rushing through a double-team for a three-second quarterback hit.
After what appeared to finally be a breakout game against the Los Angeles Chargers in which Uche recorded three quarterback hits (all near-sacks), Uche actually saw his snap count shrink in half against the Rams from 36 snaps (50% of all defensive snaps) to 16 (25%). Despite this decrease in involvement, Uche still recorded two tackles, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit.
It is in light of this indignance that I am officially announcing the commencement of the #FreeJoshUche movement.
In college, Uche epitomized versatility — he was able to do everything, from bull-rushing Tristian Wirfs and Jedrick Wills to covering K.J. Hamler 50 yards downfield. It was not uncommon to see Uche set the edge on one play and then shut down a tight end in downfield man coverage on the next. Belichick’s decision to draft Uche seemed to indicate that Belichick was finally ready to adapt his defense to the modern NFL, however, this adaptation simply has not happened.
In past years with a more talented team, Belichick had far more leeway in developing young, explosive talent. But with the 2020 Patriots, Belichick’s eagerness to relegate his best football players to situational roles has simply exacerbated the struggles of an already talent-starved roster. Given that playoffs are likely out of the equation for the Pats, it would make sense for Belichick to give his younger players some real game experience and of course, #FreeJoshUche.
In all likelihood, however, Belichick will actually try to win meaningless games, end the season 8-8, and draft another first-round bust at WR. You know, standard stuff.
Uche truly has the potential to be a three-down edge defender for the Patriots and until he is given the opportunity to truly contribute, the Patriots will continue to hemorrhage at the edges.