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Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Defensive Line

01.08.13 at 8:27 pm ET

With the postseason underway, we’€™ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a week-long, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We started with the offense a few days ago, and then went over to the defensive side of the ball, hitting on the secondary and the linebackers. Now, it’€™s the defensive line.

Depth chart (stats based on coaches film review): Vince Wilfork (59 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, 6 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries), Brandon Deaderick (14 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits, 1 pass defensed, 2 forced fumbles), Rob Ninkovich (61 tackles, 8 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 5 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries), Chandler Jones (48 tackles, 6 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 5 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles), Jermaine Cunningham (25 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6 quarterback hits), Kyle Love (40 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hits), Trevor Scott (12 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 quarterback hits), Justin Francis (10 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits).

Overview: While the Patriots were able to build up some pretty good depth at the position over the course of the season, the New England defensive line was able to get superlative efforts from Wilfork and Ninkovich this year, while Jones gave an impressive jolt as an edge rusher over the first three-quarters of the season at the defensive end spot.

There is a good supporting cast around Wilfork — particularly Ninkovich and Jones on the outside, as well as occasional flashes this season as Cunningham (who served a four-game ban for a violation of league policy on performance enhancers), Francis (who had three sacks in the regular-season finale), as well as Scott and Love.

But ultimately, it is impossible to overstate how important Wilfork was to this group in 2012. He remains a game-changer, the sort of player who can provide a foundation not only for your positional grouping, but your defense as a whole. There’€™s a lot you can say about him, but maybe the ultimate tribute to what he’€™s been able to do over these last two seasons is that when you consider the current NFL contract market, he’€™s probably outperformed the five-year, $40 million deal he signed in March 2010.

Best Moment: Two come to mind — Wilfork was dominant against the Bills in the first game in Buffalo, and it was this crushing hit on Bills wide receiver Donald Jones that was probably the best of the year for the New England defense. And Ninkovich, who continues to rise to the occasion in big moments, came away with a strip sack of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in overtime to knock off New York.

Worst Moment: Not sure there was a singular bad moment for this group, but the team surrendered a season-high 180 rushing yards in the December loss to the Niners. It was a humbling moment for a physical front that was a big reason the Patriots spent most of the season in the Top 10 when it came to rush defense.

By the numbers: Wilfork has more passes defensed (6) than quarterback hits (3).

Money quote: ‘€œIt’€™s always an honor to get recognition like that, but to me, I’€™ve always believed I was put on this earth to play football. At the end of the day that’€™s what I know: football, I know football. I know I can play football. I know what it takes to play football. I know what it takes to win. I know how it feels to lose. I’€™ve been in a lot of battles in my life in football. So all the recognition and accolades that come with it, that’€™s great. But at the end of the day I want to win, plain and simple. I try to do whatever I can to help this ball club win, because at the end of the day that’€™s what you get judged by ‘€“ wins and losses.’€ —Wilfork on receiving several honors for his work this season.

Read More: 2013 playoffs, positional playoff preview,



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