FOXBORO – We’ve noted several times the historic pace for stinginess the Patriots defense is on through nine games.
Even with the Ravens putting up 30 on them in their last game, the New England defense has still allowed just 70 points. The NFL record of 152 was set by the 2000 Ravens.
The “Who’s the Greatest Defense of All Time” conversation is a subjective one. Opponents, rules changes, the evolution of the game in terms of scheme and technology – not to mention the evolution of the athletes – makes it impossible to declare a “winner.”
About the only objective evidence that can be submitted is how many points a particular team’s defense allowed. And the Patriots are tracking history in that regard.
There is, however, one intimate eyewitness to the 2000 Ravens who can also speak with expertise about the 2019 Patriots. That’s Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.
Back in 2000 when he was a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, Pederson got the start on November 26 against the Ravens.
The Browns lost, 44-7. Pederson went 8-for-16 for 108 yards with two sacks and an interception. And?
“I think I cracked my ribs in that game,” Pederson added Wednesday afternoon on a conference call ahead of Sunday’s matchup with New England.
I asked Pederson what else he remembers about that team and how it compares to this one.
“It’s an interesting conversation, and you can obviously draw some parallels with those two defenses,” he began. “I think the biggest thing that jumps out to you right now, the glaring thing, is the turnover ratio.
“I mean, the fact that they’ve got six defensive scores this season, the interceptions, the fumbles they’re causing – it’s a brand of defense where they just smother you. They just corral you,” said Pederson. “They’re OK with giving you two, three, four yards, but they’re right on top of you. Their secondary is that way aggressively and their front seven are that way.
“And that’s something I think when you look back, if I remember correctly with that Baltimore team, the same structure, the same style of defense,” he added. “It was a smothering style of defense, and they played fast and they played aggressively. They may not do a whole lot schematically, and I think that’s a positive because it does allow your guys to play free, and to play fast and to play smart. I think that’s a similarity that I see with this Patriots defense today.”
So far, the Patriots have recovered eight opponent fumbles and picked off 19 passes. They’ve also returned four turnovers for touchdowns (not to mention the two blocked punt touchdowns).
The Ravens recovered 26 opponent’s fumbles and picked off 23 passes (26 fumbles on 44 forced fumbles … insanity….).
Because of the bye week, the Patriots' loss to Baltimore has festered. Skepticism that the Patriots' gaudy numbers are more about their opponents' ineptitude than New England’s excellence has gained traction.
Did Pederson see anything from that Ravens game that he can sample?
“The Ravens offense is unique because of their quarterback,” Pederson pointed out. “I’ll just throw that out there – this kid [Lamar Jackson] is special and he’s hard to bring down. So, they can do some things that probably every other team in the league can’t. But, I think you can look at the structure of things, and what Baltimore did and the success that Baltimore had in that game. I think you can kind of match that to what we do, or what we try to do.
“But you’ve got to look at the entire body of work,” Pederson cautioned. “You can’t just focus on one game because there’s so many things. I mean, the Patriots defense changes from week-to-week based on who they play, so we would anticipate maybe a little different structure than what they played against Baltimore. So, we look at it. You’ve got to look at it with a wide lens, obviously, and try to pick a few things that might help you win.”
They go about it a whole lot differently than the Ravens, but the Eagles can run it. They’ve been over 4 yards per carry in every game but two this season and ran for 364 in their last two contests against pretty stout defenses – Chicago and Buffalo.
So this is a legitimate test for the Patriots who, at this point, are a helluva lot less concerned about history than they are the here and now.
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