Found September 26, 2013 on
There is a chance, a slight chance but a chance all the same, that the Patriots’ defense this season is very good. So far in 2013, the New England defense is 4th according to Football Outsiders DVOA efficiency ratings. With that, they have the 4th best pass defense and the 16th ranked rush defense. The only issue with the numbers is that the level of competition that New England has faced is not exactly top of the table. Buffalo is 20th through three weeks, New York 28th and Tampa Bay 29th according to FO’s DVOA ranking. Those three teams are not exactly the best offenses in football. In actuality, they are among the worst.
This means that the Patriots have done their jobs this season, and to their credit they have done their job well. It does not mean the Patriots are without their flaws, and games over the next four weeks of the season will test them and allow them to prove themselves championship caliber.
Flaw number one: Team defense versus secondary recievers
One of the reasons to read Football Outsiders is because they can give efficiency numbers for basically anything. For example, did you know through the first three weeks of the season, the New England Patriots are the third worst defense in the NFL against opposing teams second receivers? Yup. While the season is still young, second receivers are about 39% more efficient than an average second receiver against the Patriots.
Strangely, this actually makes sense. As much as Alfonzo Denard has improved and been an impressive 7th round value pick and as much as Kyle Arrington works hard to make me take back all the mean things said about him over the years, neither of them possess the size and skill of Aqib Talib. If I was an offensive coordinator game-planning to beat the Patriots, I would do two things.
Play my third down backs more often in an attempt to slow down the Patriots pass-rush with screens.
Not design plays to throw towards Aqib Talib.
Obviously this is what is going on, right? Not really. Combined number one wide-receivers, slots and tight-ends see about 22 passes a game. Number two wide-receivers? About three passes a game.
The numbers should be terrifying, especially considering the Patriots play Atlanta this weekend with the two headed-monster of Julio Jones and Roddy White. Put it this way. If Alfonzo Denard makes opposing second receivers 39% more efficient that average receivers against only three passes, imagine what Roddy White can do when more targets are going to come in his direction?
Flaw number two: That nasty 16th ranked rush defense
While the Patriots’ defense has struggled in recent years, the rush defense has usually been their rock. The reason the pass-defense was so “bad” was because teams gave up on the run and started throwing every down, often playing catch-up.
Perhaps the lower scoring output from the Patriots’ offense is exposing the Patriots’ rush defense a small bit.
“But Benti,” you’re saying “You’re using those fancy efficiency stats. That’s not what real sports are about! I’ve watched the Patriots and let me tell you their rushing defense is really good. You probably read from the baseball book of WAR you communist!”
First, I do believe in WAR so you would be right disembodied voice. Secondly, if you want me to look at the stats at the basic level, the Patriots rush defense is worse. They are 9th worst in the league in yards per-game and yards per-carry. In fact, its a mystery why teams don’t run the ball more against this team. New York was running extremely well in that Thursday night game and failed because they decided to let a rookie quarterback throw the ball more. Tampa has a guy nick-named “The muscle hamster” who averaged 4.4 yards per carry on Sunday and they stopped giving him the ball.
I’m not expecting a smarter, better team like Cincinnati to give up on the run so easily, especially when a lot of their offense runs off the play-action. Next week the Patriots will have to stop the run or risk seeing big plays over the top of the defense.
Flaw number three: depth
This remains the Patriots’ biggest issue as the season trudges along. The hope is that it never rears its ugly head, but the reality is that in the NFL somebody will get hurt and miss significant time. Defensively, there is no room for error. If Devin McCourty goes down, Tavon Wilson has to come in and if – god forgive – Jerrod Mayo misses time, something called a Steve Beauharnais is next on the depth chart.
In fact any of these next three to four games can test their defensive might. Atlanta, Cincinnati and New Orleans each allow the Patriots to see how they fare against three likely playoff teams. So far, the Patriots have got by finding their way against sub-par noncompetitive. Now, it is time to see how real this team actually is.
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