Pass-rushers don’t need to play every snap to dominate, and New England Patriots’ outside linebacker Josh Uche is the proof. He’s a “specialist” who has learned to “dominate” offenses, despite operating in what is ultimately a “part-time role,” according to John Owning of Pro Football Focus.
Uche turned his dominance into a career-high 11.5 sacks, even though he only got onto the field for 38% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference. Owning believes “Uche’s 6-foot-1 and 250-pound frame will likely always relegate him to a pass-rush specialist role in Bill Belichick’s defense.”
Yet, that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to come from the 24-year-old.
Situational Edge Josh Uche Enjoyed Banner Season
Uche’s numbers from 2022 command respect, with Owning detailing the defender “ranked seventh among NFL edge defenders (min. 100 pass-rush snaps) in pass-rush win rate (19.2%) while his 20.7% pressure rate ranked third.”
Those numbers reveal the efficiency Uche achieves whenever he sees the field. He’s given a simple remit, to put consistent heat on the pocket and constantly disrupt quarterbacks.
The play showed how Uche is a thinking man’s pass-rusher. He’s become adept at setting up winning pressures depending on his opponent.
Both of these sacks were testament to Uche’s cerebral approach and natural talent for creating pressure. They were also the results of facing one-on-one matchups, a luxury Uche was afforded throughout 2022 thanks to his fellow dominant edge-rusher in a Patriots uniform.
Matthew Judon Helped Teammate Dominate
It’s not taking anything away from Uche to acknowledge the benefit he gets from rushing the passer out of the same lineup as Matthew Judon. The latter is a force who’s gotten better and better since swapping the Baltimore Ravens for the Patriots in 2021.
Judon set a career-best mark with 15.5 sacks last season. In the process, his partnership with Uche outpaced all other bookend pass-rushers in the league as they were “the first pair of teammates to reach double digit sacks” in 2022, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick signed Judon to be New England’s bluechip QB hunter. Belichick, who once served as defensive coordinator for Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor with the New York Giants, knows how a feared game-wrecker can create splash plays for those around him.
That’s how things have worked for Uche, who responded to Judon’s sustained success by putting together a prolific late-season run, per Reiss’ colleague Field Yates.
Uche’s strong finish makes him worthy of extended playing time this year, even though Belichick’s scheme requirements remain a possible sticking point. Belichick has traditionally favored bulkier edge players, with 6-foot-5, 265-pounder Chandler Jones and 268-pound Willie McGinest among the most notable examples.
As Owning pointed out, Uche’s frame could count against him, especially since 250 pounds is usually inside linebacker size in Belichick’s defenses. Yet the Pats’ boss has rarely been tied to one inflexible blueprint at any position.
Belichick knows getting the best players on the field more often gives his team a better chance to win, so Uche should expect more than a part-time workload in his third season.