The Patriots’ secondary has struggled this year, giving up 30 points or more twice.
We saw it last year. Defense wins championships. Lack of defense lets championships slip away.
It’s become quite the cliché throughout the history of sports, but there aren’t many of them that are more true. In almost any sport – particularly football – teams need to be sound on both sides of the ball, but it always seems that one with a respectable defense is the one still standing when the other 31 are not.
With a chance to win their first Super Bowl in seven seasons last February, the Patriots found out first-hand just how hard that is without at least a decent defense. Though their offense was, and still continues to be prolific, they could not pull the game out with the defense they were forced to put on the field.
Some of that was, of course, due to injuries, but that’s no excuse. Everyone has injuries – and they’ll be the first ones to tell you that. When it comes down to it and there’s one chance to capture a championship, it’s all hands on deck. And the Patriots don’t seem to have a good enough set of 22 hands on the defensive side of the ball to make every tackle, break up every pass or occasionally bring the quarterback down.
With players like Sergio Brown, James Ihedigbo and Tracy White included in last year’s Super Bowl lineup on D, is it really any surprise that the Patriots lost the game? I mean, Gisele Bundchen may have said it best: her husband can’t do it all.
Fast forward to 2012 and so far, it’s really been a lot of the same. Last year’s Patriots defense finished 31st out of 32 teams in total defense, giving up an atrocious 411.1 yards per game to their opponents. They finished ninth in the league against the run (96.8 ypg), but 31st against the pass (293.9 ypg).
While the run defense was improved more over the summer with the additions of Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower from the draft, the pass defense continues to struggle mightily. They are giving up huge numbers to very average quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Russell Wilson and Mark Sanchez.
Through nine games this season, the Patriots’ defense ranks 25th in the league in total defense and 29th and ninth again against the pass and run respectively. They are also giving up 22.3 points per game (T-17th) and have allowed opponents to score more than 25 points four times. Compared to last year, that’s one more than they gave up the entire season.
Some of it has to do with the dynamic offenses and strong quarterbacks featured almost every week in the NFL these days and some it may have to do with a lack of pressure by the front seven. A lot of it, however, again, has to do with the caliber of players they are sending out on the field every week.
Patrick Chung, perhaps the best player in their secondary is currently out with a shoulder injury and has missed four games this year as well as significant time last year. Perhaps two of the most talented young players in their secondary – Sterling Moore and Ras-I Dowling – will not retun this year. Dowling was put on season-ending IR on Oct. 26 with a thigh injury and Moore, perhaps their most crucial defensive back down the stretch last year, was released by the team following Week 6 against Seattle.
This leaves the starting secondary with Kyle Arrington and rookie, Alfonzo Dennard, at the corners and Devin McCourty, who struggled mightily at corner the past two seasons and hasn’t done much better at safety, and Steve Gregory manning safety positions. Not exactly going to have many (if any) opposing quarterbacks shaking in their boots.
Clearly Arrington is not a shutdown corner in this league. He just cannot always hang with the other team’s No. 1 receiving threat. Dennard showed some promise once the team finally activated him and he got out on the field, but he really struggled in Sunday’s game.
So, why not just exhaust all the options until we find something we can work with? Well, Bill Belichick is not an idiot. He is putting his most talented cover corners and safeties out on the field. They are just not doing all they could be doing. Who else could he put out there? Marquice Cole? Rookie Tavon Wilson? Rookie Nate Ebner? Malcolm Williams??
The secondary should get some help this week as newly-acquired corner, Aqib Talib, is expected to be on the field against the Colts as his suspension comes to an end. Talib, a former top-10 draft pick, has the ability to be a shutdown corner. He just has to make it happen.
The Patriots are not going to win the Super Bowl if they continue to give up 22 points a game. The offense, no matter how dynamic it is, is not going to be able to, and should not be counted on to score 40 points a week to comfortably win.
Their road to the Super Bowl would likely have to go through one or two of the following: the Ravens, the Steelers, the Broncos or the Texans. What do these four teams all have in common? Great defenses.
Sure, they put up 30 against Baltimore in Week 3 and now they’re a lot thinner on D than they were then, but that would still be no easy task.
The Steelers and Texans are the league’s top two defenses and the Broncos are coming on strong in the six spot after a very impressive performance last week.
Then, should they find a way to make it past these teams, there is a chance they could face the Bears in the Super Bowl. And they’re only on pace to have the most interception returns in NFL history.
It just doesn’t seem in the cards for them to be able to win a Super Bowl this year with the defensive personnel that they have.
But, what if the season worked out favorably for them and they could take advantage of their strengths? What if they didn’t have to face a defenseive powerhouse? What if things were worse and they had to face an offensive juggernaut like the Packers or the Colts or the Falcons? Well, that might just work out worse for them. How would their defense contain Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck or Roddy White and Julio Jones? Or, God forbid, if they had to face the Giants again.
The Patriots’ road to the Super Bowl will no doubt be a bumpy one and even if they make it there, their car might stall when going up against some of the harshest conditions out there. At least they got that late pick when they were needed most against Buffalo. If not, this would be a little bit more angry article.
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