With the Patriots off this weekend, we’ve got our Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We’ve looked at the offense. Now, we flip things around to the defensive side of the ball, and start with the defensive line.
Overview: With the defensive line, it’s complicated. Led by old warrior Vince Wilfork , the group deserves all the credit in the world for helping making New England one of the toughest teams in the league to run against, particularly along the interior. Only one back has broke 100 yards against them this year, and the group continues to do its part to make opposing offenses one-dimensional. But for a unit that preaches ‘team defense’ more than anyone else, the group must bear at least some responsibility for the fact that the Patriots continue to struggle against the pass. (However minimal, their culpability lies in the fact that the group as a whole isn’t doing enough to get to the quarterback, so as to cut down on coverage times for the secondary. And while it’s improved — particularly among Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich  — it’s something that bears watching going forward.) In the end, it’s been a mixed bag for the defensive line, but with more good than bad through the first eight games.
Depth chart: Kyle Love (22 tackles, 1.5 sacks), Wilfork (26 tackles), Jake Bequette, Justin Francis , Jones (37 tackles, 6 sacks), Jermaine Cunningham  (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks), Ron Brace , Trevor Scott , Ninkovich (32 tackles, 5 sacks).
(We’ll include Ninkovich here as a defensive lineman — specifically, a defensive end — because even though he’s also played outside linebacker, he’s been on the line more often than not.)
Best moment: A handful to choose from: Wilfork surprisingly dropping into coverage against the Rams, Jones’ terrifically athletic, sweeping 17-yard sack (also against St. Louis), Ninkovich’s strip sack at the end of the overtime against the Jets or Wilfork’s rag-dolling of Matt Slauson to force a safety against the Jets. But for pure out-of-your-seat awesome, we’re going to go with Wilfork’s blast of Donald Jones late in the win over Buffalo . How a man that size got the acceleration he did in such a quick fashion — and managed to lay such a terrific hit on an opponent — needs to be dissected in the next episode of ‘Mythbusters.’
Worst moment: It wasn’t so much the defensive line, but the defense as a whole stumbled down the stretch in the road loss to the Ravens. Despite the fact that New England held a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Patriots’ defense  couldn’t do much of anything right down the stretch against Baltimore. It was the only game of the year where a running back topped 60 yards (Ray Rice  ran for 101 yards), and the 382 yards from Joe Flacco  was the most an opposing quarterback threw for against New England over the course of the first half of the season.
By the numbers: Through eight games in 2012, the Patriots are allowing an average of 46.5 total yards per game fewer than they did over the first half of the 2011 season. Through eight games this year, they’ve also allowed 14 fewer points than they did through the first eight games of 2011.
Money quote: ‘I think I’ve been blessed with a good group of guys, starting with our leader, Vince [Wilfork]. Great football player. I think I’m learning a lot from him [laughs], just like I try to [teach] being a coach. But with his experience, him and Kyle Love, all those guys have done a good job ‘ Rob Ninkovich, all hard workers, diligent workers. And that’s the biggest blessing for me in terms of that they’re professionals, they work hard and that’s all you can ask for, really.’ — defensive line coach Patrick Graham