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Is the New England Patriots Defense Really That Bad?

The New England Patriots have the 31st ranked defense in the NFL, allowing 399.1 yards per game. The Redskins have the only defense rated lower, and it is by under 2 yards per game. By contrast, the Jets defense, perceived to be underachieving by many, allows over 100 yards less per game. Do these numbers tell the whole story? I don't, but I also don't think this is a particularly good defense either.

The Pats are in the middle of the pack against the run. They give up 4.2 per carry and 110.6 per game on the ground. Even though New England lacks a vintage version front seven, the respective presences of Vince Wilfork on the nose and the NFL's leading tackler, Jerrod Mayo, keep them from getting gashed too badly against the run.

New England does give up more yards per game than any team in the league at 288.5 yards per game. The 7.5 yards per attempt they allow rank among the ten worst in football so it is not simply a case of numbers being skewed teams throwing, throwing, and throwing some more. They do have a rookie corner, Devin McCourty who is playing strong football. He had a pair of interceptions on Thanksgiving against the Lions and is making those of us who found New England taking him over Kyle Wilson to look somewhat silly. The numbers don't look pretty, though.

While things don't look great, I still have trouble saying Washington is the only defense in the league that is worse. I think the numbers are somewhat deceiving. There have been a few games where New England had games in hand, and their opponents put up deceiving numbers in the second half. Week 1 against the Bengals comes to mind. The Pats held a 24-3 halftime lead. Then Carson Palmer started doing damage in the second half. He finished with 345 yards, but the game was never in doubt. When the Patriots played the Steelers, the same thing happened. A lot of Ben Roethlisberger's 387 yards and all 3 of his touchdowns were in garbage time. Shaun Hill went for 285 yards for the Lions, but New England's defense got stiff in the second half, allowing 7 points to turn a close game into a rout.

The Pats are also an opportunistic defense relative to the yardage they allow at least. They give up a lot of yardage, but they also rank in the middle of the pack with 20 turnovers. They rank 11th 22nd in points allowed, a tad better than the overall stats would suggest.

The group also tends to get key stops. Some people may scoff at the notion, but I do believe there is such a thing as pitching to the scoreboard. Just like quarterbacks are judged by their work in key spots, the Pats have delivered some huge stops in games against the Ravens, Colts, and Chargers.

Don't get me wrong. This is far from an elite defense. It's frankly a below average unit that doesn't allow its offense enough opportunities. I also think the Jets present them with some matchup problems we will discuss further in the next few days. My point is simply that this is not a totally inept unit incapable of doing anything right like say Houston's defense a few weeks back.