September seems like a long time ago. However, it was merely two months ago that the Patriots were on a pace to have a historically bad defense. As was the case in years past, they were surrendering yards. However, now, they were also allowing points at a record pace. Miscommunication issues doomed the Patriots early on and the injury to star linebacker Don’ta Hightower looked to be the nail in the coffin for the Patriots.
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Then, all of a sudden, the Patriots became one of if not the best defensive team in the league. Through four weeks, the Patriots allowed 128 points as they stumbled to a 2-2 record. Now, since week five, the Patriots have allowed an average of 13.4 points per game, the best mark in the NFL during that time. Not surprisingly, they haven’t lost a game in that stretch. After allowing the 128 points during the first four weeks, they are on pace to allow just over 150 over the final 12 games. A remarkable in-season turnaround.
|1||Thu||September 7||L||0-1||Kansas City Chiefs||27||42||26||537||352||185|
|2||Sun||September 17||W||1-1||@||New Orleans Saints||36||20||20||429||348||81|
|3||Sun||September 24||W||2-1||Houston Texans||36||33||23||417||292||125|
|4||Sun||October 1||L||2-2||Carolina Panthers||30||33||28||444||304||140|
“Team defense,” said Belichick on the team’s defensive turnaround. “Good team defense, or better team defense, tackling, not giving up big plays, playing better in situations, third down, red area. We’re trying to do a lot of things better bit by bit. There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’ve made some improvements; tackling.”
Getting back to the fundamentals certainly helped the Patriots who were searching to find their identity early on. Somehow, the loss of their best defensive player in Hightower should have sunk the team. However, it forced them to evolve. All of a sudden, forgotten man, David Harris, is making a huge impact on defense. After returning from injury, Stephon Gilmore has played like a man deserving of the huge contract he received in the offseason. Then, of course, there are guys like Eric Lee. Lee was a Bills practice squad member just a few weeks ago, now, he is sacking the quarterback, getting interceptions, and being an overall disruptive defensive player.
“Every year we start from scratch,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “We start in the spring and we try to build from there. I would say the season in general changes week to week or month to month, however, you want to look at it, and coming out of training camp it’s going to be different than what it is for the first month. The second month will be different than what it is the first month and I think it’s a process for us to try to improve. We’re always going to start with the fundamentals.”
|5||Thu||October 5||8:25PM ET||W||3-2||@||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||19||14||26||409||319||90|
|6||Sun||October 15||1:00PM ET||W||4-2||@||New York Jets||24||17||23||408||334||74|
|7||Sun||October 22||8:30PM ET||W||5-2||Atlanta Falcons||23||7||21||343||223||120|
|8||Sun||October 29||1:00PM ET||W||6-2||Los Angeles Chargers||21||13||16||349||192||157|
|10||Sun||November 12||8:30PM ET||W||7-2||@||Denver Broncos||41||16||17||339||221||118|
|11||Sun||November 19||4:25PM ET||W||8-2||@||Oakland Raiders||33||8||21||344||235||109|
|12||Sun||November 26||1:00PM ET||W||9-2||Miami Dolphins||35||17||15||221||154||67|
|13||Sun||December 3||1:00PM ET||W||10-2||@||Buffalo Bills||23||3||16||268||85||183|
Last season, the Patriots had a stout defensive unit that improved towards the end of the season. The 2017 version is following a similar path. Albeit without guys like Hightower and Rob Ninkovich, who retired before the season. It took the Patriots a bit longer than normal to find their way on defense. The silver lining during the horrid start to the season was the belief that this team had far too much talent to be this bad. Now, we are seeing how talented they are. Talented enough to be one of the top defensive units in the game.
“I think for us, again, these guys do a great job understanding it’s a process,” added Patricia. “So there’s an [understanding of] ‘hey look, this is what it is this week. It’s got to be better next week and everybody just bear down and let’s keep working’ and that’s the great thing about it is the work attitude that they come in with every day – that ‘hey look, this a hard game. It’s hard every week.”