Defending the New England Defense from “Pitiful” Charges

Conventional wisdom holds that the New England Patriots defense is awful. Inarguably one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Putrid, in fact. And to support this thesis, the critics will point to New England’s “yards allowed” as evidence. By this metric, the critics have a point as the Pats have given up more yards per game this season than everyone but the Washington Redskins.  

I am not going to stand here today and offer a vigorous defense of the Pats Defense. Such protestation is not warranted. That said, the prosecution in this case is relying on dubious facts and some exculpatory evidence needs to be entered into the record to illuminate the situation.

Your honor, if I may ……

My client is not completely innocent of all charges. But you must consider this one important fact: a great deal of damage this year has been done to New England’s statistical profile during garbage time. Yes, other teams can make similar cases. But sitting at 10-2, the Pats have had more than their share of big leads this year and the record shows that other teams have stuck the Pats “prevent” defense with an obscene amount of empty yards. Let’s take a look.

* Week one against Cincy. The Pats destroyed the Bengals in the first half and took the opening kick of the second half back for a TD. That made the score 31-1. Up to that point, the Bengals had managed 154 yards of total offense and three points. After that …. 274 yards and three scores.

* October 24, at San Diego: The Pats led 20-3 with six minutes to go in the third quarter. After that, the Chargers stung the defense for 212 yards. Some of that is to be expected but 60 came off a bungled onside kick by the Pats. The numbers look a little better if that kick were recovered and the “prevent” was given a little less burn.

* Halloween: The Pats put the Vikes away with a late score, going up 28-18 with less than two minutes to go. The Vikes went on to hang 58 meaningless yards on the Pats.

* November 14th at Pitt: The Pats are up 29-10 with nine minutes to go. From that point, Pitt throttled NE’s prevent for 197 yards.  The final numbers also include another 83 yards that came after the score was 23-3 with six minutes to go in the third. So the Steelers racked up 280 yards after the game was basically over. Priot to that … just 145 yards.

* November 21 versus the Colts: The score is 31-14 with ten minutes to go. From that point on, the Colts hung 186 yards on the Defense. Some of this is to be expected but at least 55 would disappear if the offense had been able to make a couple first downs.

All told, I figure there are between 400-500 yards of unusual activity in New England’s account. And if you back this out, you get a defense that looks more like the 23rd best defense in the NFL, rather than the 31st. That still is not very good but it’s a far cry from pitiful.

If my adjustments seem arbitrary and you find holes in my reasoning; I suggest you turn to football outsiders for their view on the subject. These sabre-guys have the Pats D ranked around 25 or 26 in the league Again, not good but not nearly as putrid as the headline numbers seem to indicate.

Concluding, I concede that the New England defense is hardly stout. And their problems on third down are maddening. But the defense is very young and there are clear signs of improvement. Moreover, once adjustments are made to the numbers, one can see that “mediocrity” is within reach. That might not seem like much, but it is a far cry from “putrid.” And importantly, teams with “mediocre” defenses have won conference titles. The same can’t be said for those whose nametags read: “Terrible.”

The defense rests …….

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