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Bye-Week Breakdown: Defensive line

10.23.11 at 2:32 pm ET
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After a rough start, Andre Carter (left) and Albert Haynesworth have had a lot to celebrate the last couple of games. (AP)

With the Patriots off this weekend, we’ve got our Bye-Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots at the six-week mark. We’ve already looked at the offensive side of the ball. Now, we start with the defense, and the defensive line.

Depth chart: Shaun Ellis, Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Kyle Love, Gerard Warren and Mark Anderson. (Myron Pryor and Mike Wright have both landed on season-ending injured reserve.)

Overview: With a collection of new faces, the Patriots defensive front struggled out of the gate as they learned how to play together. In addition, holdovers (including Wilfork, Love and Warren) were asked to make the switch as New England moved from a three-man defensive front to a four-man front, leading to more transitional questions. However, as the season has continued, there’s a clear sense that this unit is starting to gel, with two of its finest performances coming over the last two games against the Jets and Cowboys.

Individually, Wilfork, Love, Carter and Warren have all exceeded expectations, with Carter serving as the most impressive and consistent newcomer on either side of the ball through the first six weeks (for more on his impact, check out our story here). Ellis has appeared to struggle at times — whether that’s the residual effect of a hip injury, age or struggles with the new system, we’re not sure, and it will be interesting to see how he responds over the second half of the season. And Haynesworth and Anderson have been used situationally, but responded well when healthy — when he was on the field against the Cowboys for 27 snaps, there were times where Haynesworth was absolutely dominant. (For evidence, check out what he did when he was triple-teamed on Carter’s second snap of Romo.)

Best Moment: The back-to-back effort against the Jets and the Cowboys represented the best defensive outings of the season for New England, as the Patriots combined to hold New York and Dallas to 37 total points and 7-for-23 on third down without defensive captain, linebacker Jerod Mayo. Not great numbers, but much better than where they were at the start of the season. (We’ll also throw Wilfork’s two picks — one vs. the Chargers and the second against the Raiders –  into this group as well.)

Worst Moment: New England yielded 34 points against the Bills, the worst defensive outing since they allowed 34 points in last November’s shocking defeat to the Browns in Cleveland.

By the numbers, according to Nuggetpalooza: Through six weeks, the Patriots’ pass rushers are recording a hurry or a knockdown on 15.9 percent of opponent pass plays, ranked just 28th in the league. However, that would be their BEST ranking over the last three seasons, as they ranked 31st in 2009 and 2010.

Money Quote: “We’re getting a lot of good plays and a lot of productive plays from some guys that are playing some techniques and are doing some things that they’re not normally used to doing or accustomed to doing. It’s kind of hard teaching some old dogs new tricks, but we have some guys that are buying into the system and working at it, working hard to try to do some of the things that we ask them to do.” –Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, bye week breakdown, Gerard Warren
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