FOXBORO – Ode to the Greatness of the Patriots defense, Volume VI.
Thursday night, they broke “The Curve.”
For a month-and-a-half, everyone’s been all “But who have they playyyyeedddddd….” And everybody else was agreeing, like, “I knooooowwwwww…”
Doesn’t matter anymore.
You may still want to chip, chip, chip away at the brilliance of the defense, pick every nit and wonder what they’d look like if they’d seen a REAL offense, but the overwhelming evidence they’ve piled up through six games has rendered the qualifiers moot.
They really are this good and their omnipotence isn’t just thanks to the poop emojis in shoulder pads that they’ve dispatched.
Opposing offenses have embarked on 74 drives against them.
Five of those drives ended with points. Three of them ended with touchdowns. The Patriots have ended five of those drives with touchdowns – two punt block TDs (including one Thursday night), two pick-sixes, one scoop and score fumble return (Kyle Van Noy on Thursday night; thanks to Disco Mike Hurley for the legwork on that.
They’ve forced 44 punts through six games. They have 14 picks and 25 sacks. Here are the pick and sack totals from the past few seasons.
2018: 18 and 30
2017: 12 and 41
2016: 13 and 34
2015: 12 and 49
2014: 16 and 40
2013: 17 and 47
2012: 20 and 37
2011: 23 and 40.
So they already have more picks in six games than they had in three of their past four seasons.
They allowed their 10th third-down conversion of the season last night (10 for 73, 13.7 percent conversion rate).
They’ve allowed four trips to get to their 20 four times in six games.
“They’re a stellar defense,” said Giants left tackle and former Patriot Nate Solder.” They got a great system and if you plug in a couple of guys that are willing to work hard and do what they’re told and are physical, they make it work. I think they have a couple special guys. (Dont’a) Hightower’s a special guy. (Jamie) Collins is a special guy and they are the versatile guys that have really made it a versatile defense. … (Kyle)Van Noy is very smart, very capable and he does a great job within the system.”
That the Patriots defense is very, very good isn’t a surprise. They were excellent at the close of last season. They lost a great player in Trey Flowers but the additions (Collins, Chase Winovich, Michael Bennett), improvements (Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Jonathan Jones) and returns (Ja’Whaun Bentley) have made this go from a very, very good defense to – I’ll say it again – a historic one.
Prior to the snap, they are extremely hard to figure out. Post-snap, their execution is so good at all three levels that it’s hard to string together enough plays to even generate first downs.
“They have players who’ve been together a really long time and understand the defense,” said Giants receiver Golden Tate.
Tate scored the first receiving touchdown of the season against the Patriots, a 64-yarder that he pulled in despite tight coverage from Jones. “What makes them tough is they can be in dime (six defensive backs) package, quarter package (four players deep, three playing zone at the linebacker level), nickel package (five DBs) against our three-receiver set, they can be in base (3-4 with four DBs). It makes it tough to identify who’s who.”
Tough for everyone. For the line to sort out who’s going to rush and who’s going to drop from the front-seven. For the quarterback to determine man or zone defense and sense whether there will be pressure (five rushers) or a blitz (six rushers). For the receivers to determine what kind of route to run since there’s so much presnap uncertainty.
And after the ball is snapped, there’s the physical element that – honestly – was lacking in past years. The health of Hightower, the growth of Collins, the athleticism of Van Noy, the presence of Gilmore, the development of Lawrence Guy, Shelton and Butler … all of it combined is having a trickle-down effect. It’s like compound interest.
“For years now – decades – they’ve been a sound team,” said Tate. “Fundamentally. All the time. That’s what makes them tough. And at the same time, they bank on the other team screwing up. You look at …. How many turnovers have they earned over the last five weeks (16 plus two blocked punts). Those guys find a way to get to the ball. Their defensive line puts pressure on the quarterback week in and week out. They’re playing very well.”
Tate played with one of the best defenses of this century in Seattle. He saw the 2014 Patriots which was a very good crew. He’s got an appreciation for football history. Could these Patriots – who’ve allowed 27 defensive points so far – be regarded as a team making history? “I suppose they could and I suppose they should. They’re playing very well together. I don’t know how to consider them but they’re playing very well and they definitely did a good job against us.”
There is and will continue to be great resistance to the notion that what the Patriots are doing this season is historic. The collection of quarterbacks, offenses and teams they've faced is just too sorry.
Reality is that they haven't just handled these teams, they've humiliated them. Like pros vs. college kids type domination. Attention should be paid.
To every opposing quarterback that's been bundled or is about to be, the Patriots should apologize and say, "It's not you. It's me."
Every week, there's a qualifier that downgrades what the Patriots are doing. Ben Roethlisberger was hurt. The Dolphins are trying to lose. Luke Falk is Luke Falk. Josh Allen stinks. Washington laid down. Now, it's Daniel Jones is a rookie and the Giants left their stars at home. There's a measure of truth to all of it. But even so, it shouldn't be this lopsided.
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