Counting down the most important Patriots players heading into the 2022 NFL season.
Methodology: taking a concept from veteran NFL reporter Dave Dameshek, the most important Patriots series is like a giant game of Jenga. If we were to pull this player from New England’s lineup, who would cause the tower to fall completely or become unsteady the most?
Most Important Patriots: No. 2, EDGE Matthew Judon
Along the same lines as our fourth-most important Patriot, Christian Barmore, New England needs a sustained pass rush for all 17-plus games this season to stay afloat on defense.
Although he faded down the stretch, free-agent pickup Matthew Judon had a highly productive first season with the team, earning his third career Pro Bowl nomination in 2021.
The Pats’ top pass-rusher led the team with 63 quarterback pressures, the most by a Patriot since Trey Flowers in 2018 (64), and was tied for seventh in the NFL with 12.5 sacks, which were the most by a New England defender since Chandler Jones in 2015.
As just the third Patriots pass-rusher to register over 12 sacks under Bill Belichick, Judon was red-hot out of the gate by bending New England’s contain-rush scheme rules.
Typically, Bill Belichick doesn’t give his edge rushers the freedom to “run the arc” aggressively to wrap around tackles to get the quarterback. However, using his speed/rip combinations, Judon hunted for sacks to ignite New England’s pass rush throughout the season.
As Barmore came into his own, Judon and the Pats’ rookie became a formidable tandem that gave offensive lines fits on stunt schemes and rushes where they worked off one another.
Judon earned his big payday as a pass-rusher in his first season with the Patriots, but he also logged 18 stops against the run and was a capable edge-setter in the first half of the season.
However, several factors contributed to Judon’s production falling off down the stretch. In his final four games, Judon failed to register a sack and accumulated only four QB pressures.
The Pro Bowler suffered a rib injury during New England’s upset victory over the Bills in early December when he collided with Dont’a Hightower. Then, Judon was placed on the COVID-19 list late in the season, two ailments that could’ve contributed to his late-season struggles.
Another possibility is that offensive tackles had enough film to prepare for Judon’s go-to moves, timing up his rushes to mitigate his impact, which is something we saw on film.
As for Judon himself, he admitted that he began pressing late in the year as the 2021 campaign began to get away from the Patriots, trying to take over games rather than doing his job.
Regardless, the Patriots need the early-season Judon for the duration of the 2022 season, who posted 12.5 sacks and 59 total pressures in his first 13 games with the team.
If they get the Pro Bowl version of Judon for 17-plus games, it will go a long way for the new-look Patriots defense to find its footing this season.