Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: The Patriots are leading a defensive revolution

The 2018 season brought an offensive explosion to the National Football League it had never seen before. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints averaged a whopping 31.5 points per game, but the kicker is that they were only the third highest scoring team in the league. 

The Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs put up video game numbers, scoring 32.9 and 35.3 points per game respectively and when these teams met in the regular season, they combined for 105 points and played the only game in NFL history where both teams scored more than 50 points. This performance and the season as a whole left fans wondering if this was the new norm.

Then Super Bowl LIII happened.

The New England Patriots clamped down the 12th highest-scoring offense in NFL history, holding the Rams to only three points with an out-of-this-world performance that no one could have predicted after a shaky regular season from Bill Belichick’s defensive unit. In an ironic twist, people that were complaining about a lack of defense all season were now complaining about a low-scoring Super Bowl.

Now, the tables have turned, after years of the league trending toward high-octane offenses that score at will, it’s defenses like the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills that are the stars of the 2019 season thus far with the Patriots leading this sudden defensive revolution.

The New England defense materialized out of nothing at the end of last season and has Tom Brady and Belichick poised for one more Super Bowl, much to the chagrin of the league and fans alike.

Critics will say the Patriots have not played any good opponents yet, and that is most certainly true, but in the end it doesn’t mean anything. The Patriots are expected to beat these bad opponents handily and they are doing more than just that — the Patriots are steamrolling these teams in historic fashion.

Since last season’s playoffs, Belichick has put on a masterclass of defensive coaching unlike anything we’ve seen. The Patriots faced the best offenses in the league in the playoffs in the LA Chargers (seventh), the Chiefs (first) and the Rams (second) and shut them down like it was nothing. 

This effort has carried over into this season with the Patriots sitting at 7-0 and holding opponents to a jaw-dropping 6.9 points per game, almost half of the 12.4 points per game that the legendary 1985 Bears’ defense allowed in their Super Bowl season. 

When the Patriots defense is on the field this season, they have outscored opposing offenses 20-18, in what might be the most eye-popping stat of them all. This is due to the mass amounts of turnovers that the Patriots force. They lead the league in interceptions with 18 interceptions, double of the team in second.

The defense does such a good job of keeping opponents off the board and setting the offense up with good field position that we have to go back to 1920 to find a higher scoring margin than the Patriots this season. The Patriots are outscoring opponents 223-48 (with an offense that has yet to find its footing to boot); the more than 175 margin is the highest through seven games since the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans, before the forward pass was fully legalized.

The Patriots are dismantling opposing quarterbacks. In four of their seven games thus far, opposing quarterbacks have been held to under 150 yards passing. A team cannot and will not defeat the Patriots running the ball and kicking field goals; a passing attack is needed to win in this league and the Patriots are creating a no-fly zone.

This defense is chock-full of great players but there are a select few that deserve to be highlighted

The rebirth of Jamie Collins is like something out of a movie. He was shockingly traded by the Patriots in the 2016 season for not following his defensive assignments. Collins spent a few years on the Browns, including the 0-16 season, which must have been an eye-opening moment because he has pulled a movie-like redemption arc with a magical return to New England. Collins is second on the team in total tackles and leads the team in both sacks and tackles for a loss while also registering a career-high three interceptions not even halfway into the season.

Collins is one of the aptly named “Boogeymen,” the nickname of the linebacker core featuring the underrated Kyle Van Noy and hulking Dont’a Hightower.  

As if the Boogeymen weren’t terrifying enough for opposing QBs, the Patriots have the best lockdown corner, Stephon Gilmore, prowling the defensive backfield too.

Fitting in with the spooky theme of October and the Boogeymen, Gilmore has haunted QBs around the league with three interceptions and nine passes defended on the season. Three picks might might seem low because safety Devin McCourty has five, but QBs are too scared to target Gilmore. In his past two games, QBs have targeted Gilmore 11 times and he has as many interceptions as he does receptions allowed: two. 

Belichick’s team is doing things not seen in almost a century and in an era where offensive players have more advantages than ever.

In a league that prides itself on the phrase “any given Sunday,” the Patriots continue to dominate teams in the way that we expect them to. Their opponents are still NFL teams with world-class football players, but the Patriots make them look like college teams. 

This past week, the Patriots didn’t just blowout the New York Jets, they flat out embarrassed them 33-0 on national television. The defensive play was so effective that Jets QB Sam Darnold said he was “seeing ghosts” while mic’d up by ESPN. This soundbite adds another edge to the Boogeymen and their power to completely infect a QB’s mind and is just another notch in Belichick’s masterful defensive coaching belt.

The New York Jets are a bad team and everyone knows this, but on any given Sunday, any team can win, and the Jets beat a good Dallas Cowboys team last week, showing that the Patriots’ record is far more than just a weak schedule.

Football fans have pointed at the Patriots’ weak division for 20 years now, but at this point it should be known that it’s far more than that. This is a team that has subverted the NFL’s efforts to increase parity and thrashes the league’s best each year. So sit back, enjoy the ride, and try to appreciate history during this second half of the season as the Patriots try to cement one of the best defensive efforts ever.


One Comment

  1. After 20 years in the saddle, I am still amazed at how every year’s Pats team evolves from the previous year’s team. They’ve fielded offensive juggernauts, they’ve had defensive teams, just not a team as deadly as this years model.
    Congrats, Bill Belichick