Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- Doomsday Defense. Steel Curtain. The Purple People Eaters. The Killer B’s.

 

Nicknames evoking images of defensive ruthlessness. The kind of nicknames earned by defenses that didn’t just promise long days for opposing offenses but painful ones.

 

If nicknames were still in vogue, the Patriots defense of the Matt Patricia Era (2010-17) would have been … what?

 

The Bend But Don’t Break Defense? Killing Me Softly? Venus Flytrap?  

 

 

My purpose with this story isn’t debating whether the Patriots have been the best team in the NFL for the last two decades, during Patricia’s reign or especially over the last four seasons (2014-17).

 

Of course they have. And – at critical junctures – defenders have made monumental plays that delivered historic wins.

 

The thrust of it is trying to determine whether defensive rope-a-dope is – in 2018, a wise approach.
 

 

Since 2007, eight of the top 15 highest-scoring seasons have been recorded. Five of the top nine have come since 2011. Sixteen of the top 25 single-season completion percentages have been recorded since 2007. Rules changes favor the offense. Quarterbacks are generally more accurate. Receivers are bigger, faster and more explosive than ever. And don’t even get started on those ridiculous gloves they get to wear. None of this is breaking news.

 

There are still plenty of games in which waiting around for the opposing quarterback to come undone isn’t a bad approach. But against the best? You can’t just let them motor into the red zone and expect them to come away with field goals all day.

 

 

Or count on your own offense saving your bacon. And that’s what the Patriots have done quite a lot.  
 

 

Did their defensive style and scheme win them games? Some of them. Were there also games they survived solely because Tom Brady and the offense pulled that ragged defense down the sidewalk and got it home and safely tucked into bed? No doubt.

 

These are the Patriots league rankings in yards allowed since 2010: 25, 31, 25, 26, 13, 9, 8, 29. Points allowed? Different story. That went 8, 15, 9, 10, 8, 10, 1 and 5.

 

But in the final two games of 2017, the Patriots allowed 24 points to Jacksonille and 41 to the Eagles. In their two most important games, they got annihilated on third down.

 

On Thursday, Donta Hightower talked about a simplified defense in 2018 that will allow players to play more quickly.

 

On Friday, I asked safety Duron Harmon whether creating more pressure on opposing offenses this season was a goal.  

 

 

“That’s always the objective of playing defense,” he began. “Pressure on the offense. Putting it in uncomfortable situations that create turnovers. Be unpredictable. What we’ve been trying to do the past couple of months is find ways to be aggressive because we know aggressive play leads to turnovers.”

 

The Patriots created 18 turnovers during the regular season – 12 picks and six fumble recoveries. They had 23 in 2016 (13 picks and 10 fumble recoveries). Brady’s thrown a total of 10 picks in the past two seasons combined. The team goes into the season knowing that they have a built-in advantage over everybody else in the turnover category because of how he takes care of the football. Even when he takes a ridiculous number of hits as he did early in 2017.

 

Harmon indicated there’s an emphasis on that right now.  

 

“It’s not just about pressure on the quarterback but pressure on the offense as a whole,” he said. “And that’s what this training camp is for, that’s what we’re out here trying to do now, pick the points where we can make these offenses uncomfortable.

 

“The quarterbacks now are at a different level,” he added. “I’ve only played in this era but the rules keep changing and every time I play a quarterback it seems they’re finding a new way to try and beat you. Back shoulder, low and away, throwing their receivers open. And more times than not the receivers are the best athletes on the field. Quarterbacks are getting better and better. Fortunately, we have the best one to help us get ready every week.”

 

Maybe a tweak or two and a little more pressure will make it so that Brady won’t have to ride to the rescue quite as often as he’s been asked to.

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE