Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Defending the Patriots Defense

Give the defense credit for keeping the Pats at 8-2

After letting Peyton Manning throw for almost 400 yards and 4 touchdowns (including 2 in the fourth quarter) last Sunday, the Patriots defense is once again under serious scrutiny. Looking at where they rank in the league it seems like it's well deserved too.

The Patriots are currently 31st in the league in passing yards allowed per game (289.6). Only the porous Houston Texans are worse. The Pats are last in the league on third down - allowing teams to convert 51% of the time - and 10th in the league in the most important stat, points per game, giving up 24.2 including being outscored 96-74 in the fourth quarter this year.

While those stats look pretty awful, a lot has to be said about their schedule. The Patriots have had a pretty grueling slate of games so far - facing some of the best offenses in the league this year. They've gone up against four teams in the top half of the AFC in passing yards per game, including the Colts and Chargers who currently lead the entire NFL in that category.

While the simple fact that they've faced good teams doesn't excuse being close to last in the league in these categories, one thing does stand out. The Patriots have still been able to win those games.

The New England defense is allowing the team to secure these wins because they are making big plays at critical times. James Sanders intercepting a driving Peyton Manning with 31 seconds left is a great example.

The defense may be near the bottom of the league in some key categories, but there are a few where it is among the top. The Pats are 4th in the league in turnover differential (+9), tied for 8th in the league in interceptions (13), and tied for 1st in the league for interceptions returned for touchdowns (3).

It should also be noted that the Patriots defense has given up the third fewest penalty yards this year (440).

So, while the results haven't been statistically impressive and the Patriots defense has been frustrating to watch many times this season...they have one redeeming quality. They never believe the game is over.

When the team needs them to step up - they can do it. That was evident against Baltimore - shutting them out in the fourth quarter and overtime, against the Vikings with the goal line stand before half time, and against the Colts with Sanders' late interception.

This young defense will continue to get better as the year goes on and they continue to practice. For now though, the stats may be bad, but you can't argue with the results.

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