New England’s Pass Defense and Carson Palmer

I think most people would agree that Carson Palmer is a pretty mediocre quarterback who had a fairly miserable season. He throws a lot of interceptions, his yards/attempt aren’t great and his passer rating this season is narrowly on the wrong side of the league’s median. Accordingly, it stands to reason that you wouldn’t mind facing Palmer, or a facsimile of Palmer, every week, right? I certainly wouldn’t mind that schedule.

But let me now ask you this …. If Carson Palmer’s numbers stink, doesn’t it stand to reason that the aggregate defensive numbers of his opposition, when facing Palmer, are pretty good? Or at least decent? Makes sense, right.

Well by this logic, the New England Patriots pass defense in 2010 has not been nearly as bad as conventional wisdom holds dear to its heart. And here is why. The Pats are basically hold opposing QB’s to the same numbers that Palmer puts up.

Now the lemmings are quick to point out that New England has given up more passing yards than all but two teams in the league. A few weeks back, I penned a piece that explained this number was a bit misleading as serious violence had been done to New England’s prevent defense. And if some minor adjustments were made, the Pats pitiful yardage numbers might actually escape the league’s bottom quadrant.

But after yesterday’s post – which was heavy on New England’s success in generating turnovers – I began to think that New England’s pass defense might actually deserve a second bump. The reason being that New England may not be terrific in curbing yardage but they are rich in interceptions. And if we are going to kill QBs like Palmer and Eli Manning for throwing picks than we should salute those who are on the other side of those mistakes. After all, interceptions are not entirely accidental.

Once we factor thefts into the equation, New England’s defense starts to look a lot better as the team’s league-leading 24 interceptions greatly reduce the “passer rating” that the team surrenders to opposing QBs. In fact, with an opponent’s passer rating of just 82, New England is smack dab in the middle of the league and a mirror of Palmer. And if one were to just make a SMALL adjustment to New England’s completion percentage and yds/att to reflect the team’s miserable and oft-used “prevent defense,” the passer rating would sniff the league’s top-10.

This is not to say New England has some sort of shutdown passing defense. That is hardly the case as they give up far too many completions and consequently, far too many third down conversions. But interceptions matter. And I would gladly trade 300 basis points of completion percentage for seven or eight additional interceptions. If you don’t agree, I suggest you ask Carson Palmer and Eli Manning. Or better yet, go ask Marvin Lewis and Tom Coughlin. I am quite confident they will testify that New England’s twenty-four picks are hardly insignificant.

Now critics can easily argue that New England’s defense has feasted on Ryan Fitzpatrick to generate an outsized number of picks. And they have had their share of luck as they missed Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, Vincent Jackson, Sydney Rice, Hines Ward, Dallas Clark and good throwing weather in Chicago. But over the course of a season, this stuff evens out and I’m sure I could point to other defenses catching at least three-quarters of this same luck.

The fact of the matter is the Patriots pass defense is hardly an abortion. And if we are going to use “passer rating” as a meaningful tool to measure QBs, than it’s only fair to also use it to measure defenses. By this measure, New England’s pass defense is not turning all of its opponents into Vicks and Rivers. Instead, they are turning their opponents into Palmers and Elis. And that isn’t such a bad thing.



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3 responses to “New England’s Pass Defense and Carson Palmer

  1. I like the premise. But, to address one of your points, all the smart guys now say passer rating, as it is now calculated, isn’t very good. I agree. Just as a for instance, I’m pretty sure Mike Vick’s 600 or so yards rushing aren’t calculated into the rating (too lazy to look while I type). So, we can sequence the genome, but we can’t come up with a good formula?

    Let’s get that straightened out.

    • I agree passer rating isn’t such a great tool but if it is going to be “the” tool that guides the conversation, might as well take a look at the other side of the coin. As for Vick, his rushing numbers aren’t in there and that is a weakness that should be addressed. Fumbles and sacks aren’t in there either. Football Outsiders has some stuff with the sacks but I think any tool has to do a much better job of measuring negative plays.

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