With fresh faces leading way, Patriots' pass rush gets a boost

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There were many encouraging developments for the New England Patriots in their 37-20 preseason victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, with a revived pass rush at the top of the list.

Who can win in a one-on-one matchup? Because teams aren't extensively making game plans in the preseason, it is one of the few questions that can actually be answered with some level of decisiveness at this point on the NFL calendar.

This hasn't been a strong suit for the Patriots in recent years, as evidenced by what unfolded in Super Bowl LII, but the Patriots put consistent pressure on Eagles quarterbacks Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld on Thursday night, led by Adrian Clayborn.

When the Patriots signed Clayborn to a two-year contract with a base value of $10 million this offseason, they added an experienced player who can get off the ball with explosion. He dominated Eagles left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, the same player who neutralized James Harrison & Co. in the Super Bowl, on Thursday.

Then there was 2017 third-round draft pick Derek Rivers, who is returning from a torn ACL that cost him all of his rookie season, showing his ability to bend and press the pocket. That is no surprise to those who watched him at Youngstown State, where he set the school record for sacks (41).

Add in first-year player Keionta Davis, who spent 2017 on the team's non-football injury list after totaling 31 sacks at Tennessee-Chattanooga (second on the school's all-time list), and it was an injection of life into the team's rush off the edge.

One of the first things Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game was that he liked the energy with which Davis played. That especially showed up in the pass rush, which was without 2017 leading sacker Trey Flowers for the game but had second-year player Deatrich Wise Jr., among others, contribute.

Clayborn, in particular, flashed. His strip sack of Foles, which linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley picked up and returned 54 yards for a touchdown, was the type of disruptive play the Patriots strive to achieve.

"Part of my job as a defensive lineman is to get after the quarterback and they were passing a lot, so we had to get after the quarterback so we don't leave our DBs out to dry," said Clayborn, whose professionalism and commitment to his craft has shown up at training camp as he is often the first player to arrive on the field for extra work.

The Patriots finished with eight sacks, and in-game statisticians recorded 11 quarterback hits.

Whether that's a sign of things to come for the Patriots' defense under Brian Flores -- the linebackers coach who is leading the unit without the defensive coordinator title -- remains to be seen.

But for one preseason night, it provided a hard-to-miss boost.