Relentless pass rush an encouraging sign for the Patriots

Deatrich Wise Jr. led a Patriots pass-rush that sacked Deshaun Watson three times. Jim Rogash/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots go through drills early in their practices, defensive linemen hear multiple voices, which is different from past years.

Energetic and intense position coach Brendan Daly is usually firing them up and drilling them on fundamentals.

Then there's the newcomer to the staff, former University of Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. His presence is hard to miss, as he fits in well with the bigger-bodied tackles at the heart of the line of scrimmage.

And finally, there is Joe Kim, a martial-arts expert who was brought in as a consultant and is often seen focusing on hand placement and technique with the team's edge rushers.

If Bill Belichick went into the offseason hoping to add talented players not only to the team's defensive line and pass rush -- but also to the coaching staff -- he seems to have succeeded in a big way. Sunday's season-opening 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans could be a preview that encouraging things are ahead for the defense.

The Patriots' pass rush, in particular, was on fire, as in-game statisticians recorded 12 quarterback hits against rusty Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, including three sacks.

"Like Coach always told us, just keep the pressure on the quarterback and plays will happen, and that's what we did," said second-year defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., who had 1.5 sacks and capped off one of them with a creative celebration in which he mimicked a bowler.

Perhaps most encouraging for the Patriots was that the pressure often came out of the standard four-man rush and was complemented by competitive coverage in the secondary. It wasn't as if Brian Flores, who has taken over the playcalling duties with former coordinator Matt Patricia now in his first year as the Detroit Lions' head coach, was consistently sending extra rushers to generate heat.

The Patriots -- who mostly played a 3-3-5 nickel defense -- swarmed Watson, with last year's leading sacker Trey Flowers (50), second-year player Keionta Davis (35) and Wise (23) leading the way.

Veteran free-agent defensive end Adrian Clayborn played less frequently (22 snaps), mostly in obvious passing situations, while the unit got good push inside from interior linemen Danny Shelton (40 snaps), Malcom Brown (32) and Lawrence Guy (29).

"As far as being able to get back there, we just had to continue pressuring him, and all of our guys did a great job of just getting after him," said Flowers, who hadn't played in the preseason due to an undisclosed injury.

The challenge will be tougher next Sunday against the Jaguars in a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game, but it's a good building block for the unit. The Texans' offensive line, which isn't viewed as one of the stronger units in the NFL, was overmatched at times.

Meanwhile, the Patriots -- as many remember from Super Bowl LII, when they struggled to disrupt Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles with any semblance of a disruptive pass rush -- haven’t been able to dominate up front consistently in recent years like they did on Sunday.

"We may make it look easy, but it's not easy," Wise said. "It takes a lot of hard work, discipline and patience."