Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson offered high praise for his position group Tuesday.Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson said he's not much of a stats guy, which is probably what you'd expect to hear from a position coach whose line ranks 31st in the league in sacks per pass attempt (6 for 168; 3.57 percent) this season. But Johnson was adamant that members of his defensive line have met -- and even exceeded -- his early season expectations and suggested that an increased comfort level could lead to increased production as the year goes on.
"I’m a little more than satisfied [with the play of the defensive line]," said Johnson. "I'm quite sure the question has spawned from stats and not really detail of watching the game. But I’m watching how guys are doing what we're asking them to do. We’re actually hitting the quarterback -- a couple times we’re late -- but we're actually hitting the quarterback. It’s just not coming up with the sacks ...
"I’m not much of a stats person, I just know how we have been able to affect some throws. We're getting as much pressure as we can from the situations we are in."
The Patriots have only six sacks on the season and haven't recorded one in either of their last two games. By comparison, the Philadelphis Eagles lead the league with 15 sacks on 119 dropbacks (12.61 percent). The league average is 6.46 percent. Even still, Johnson believes the line -- especially with all the new faces and all the injuries the position has battled already -- is moving in the right direction.
"I think the more they get acclimated, the more comfortable they play, the more confident they'll be and we'll start seeing them play a lot more aggressively," said Johnson. "We have a lot of playmakers, guys that can make plays, and you would feel a little bit more of that when guys become more accustomed to what we’re asking them do. I'm not going to pile more on their plate, I just want them to do it more aggressively, more often, with more consistency."
Asked if we might see Albert Haynesworth back on the field this week, Johnson pointed reporters toward coach Bill Belichick. Haynesworth has missed the last two games with a back injury.
"I really don’t know," said Johnson. "I think that’s a good question for Coach Belichick. I've just been too busy watching film, watching the Jets."
Johnson had an interesting way of noting that he can't be worried about the availability of a single player.
"Coach Belichick would punch me in the face if I got frustrated if I didn’t have a particular player," said Johnson. "My job is not to count on one player, it's to coach whoever is out there on the field. Until Albert is out there, this is what I have to play with and we have to try to win ball games without him."
After struggling to generate a consistent pass rush last season, the Patriots traded for Haynesworth while inking veteran defensive linemen Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis. Given the lockout-modified offseason, the Patriots are still getting those veterans comfortable in a new system and injuries have complicated matters.
Not only has Haynesworth been sidelined, but Ellis has dealt with a knee injury that landed him on the injury report last week. Myron Pryor suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 and went on injured reserve, while Mike Wright has been out of action since suffering another concussion in Week 1.
Last week, the Patriots brought back Gerard Warren to add veteran depth on the line. He got thrust into immediate action when Kyle Love tweaked an ankle in Oakland on Sunday. Jerod Mayo might not be part of the defensive line, but the knee injury that's expected to sideline the linebacker and defensive captain puts even more stress on Johnson's group to step up moving forward.
"I like to look at all of us as one unit, as a group," said Johnson. "Losing such a leader like Mayo, [in] my past experience, normally guys put a little extra on their plate, put a little extra on their shoulders. Everybody has to take a piece of Mayo out on the field and try to perform and take some of his responsibilities -- not just try to put it into one person, but everybody just go out there and play for Jerod until we get him back onto the field."
In Johnson's mind, however, his group has already stepped up to the challenges.
"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," he said. "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."