In 2007, the Patriots had the best offense in the history of football, but it wasn't enough to win the Super Bowl. They've since maintained an incredibly potent offense while mixing in a suspect defense, and the result has been zero postseason victories for three seasons.
After Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers tore apart the Patriots for the bulk of Sunday afternoon, concerns about New England's defense are back on the rise. With Leigh Bodden cut and Ras-I Dowling out for the year, names like Antwaun Molden, James Ihedigbo and Phillip Adams are now forced into heavy action on Bill Belichick's defense.
That's not good.
The numbers, obviously, are ugly. The Patriots rank 32nd in yards allowed per game at 424.1. The 31st-ranked team allows 21.2 fewer yards per game, and that team is the winless Indianapolis Colts. The 30th-ranked team is the 1-6 Rams — not exactly championship-caliber company down there.
Specifically against the pass, the Patriots are atrocious. They allow 323.1 yards per game, also worst in the league, with the 31st-ranked team being the Packers at 288.9, or 34.2 yards fewer. You may see the undefeated Packers and say, "Hey, if they can do it, so can the Pats," but the Packers are there because they win 33-20 every week. Opposing teams have to pass all day, hence the yardage totals.
What's worse for the Patriots is that they rank dead last despite games against the 29th-ranked Jets offense and 21st-ranked Dolphins offense.
Fortunately, though, there's more of that to come.
While the Pats still have high-powered offenses on the schedule in the top-ranked Eagles, 10th-ranked Bills and 11th-ranked Giants, the rest of the schedule offers some incredibly weak offenses.
The Jets threw for just 158 yards against New England in Week 5, and they'll host the Patriots in Week 10. The following week, the Patriots host the Chiefs, who boast the 28th-ranked passing attack. The 27th-best passing offense belongs to Indianapolis, which will visit Gillette two weeks later, while Tim Tebow (or Kyle Orton … or Brady Quinn) will show off the NFL's 30th-best passing attack when New England visits in Week 15. That game will be followed with Miami's 25th-ranked passing offense visiting New England on Christmas Eve.
If that was too many words for you, here's a handy chart, which includes the average rank of the Patriots' remaining opponents.
|Opponent||Yards per game||Passing yards per game||Points per game|
So as the weeks go on, you may see reports of the defense showing improvement, much like you did after a strong performance against the Jets and a decent performance against the Cowboys. The Steelers ended that talk rather quickly.
Facing inferior opponents the rest of the way may help the Patriots to a 12-4 record, but it won't help them come January. As they've shown with painful playoff losses to the Ravens and Jets in the past two seasons, you can't win in January if you can't stop the other team.
That means the Patriots are going to need more than the Ihedigbos, Adams and Moldens of the world to help cover opposing receivers. Where that help will come from is anybody's guess. Sterling Moore and Josh Victorian are the only defensive backs on the practice squad. The best available free agent is … Bodden, who won't be returning to New England. Belichick, for all we know, might be 10 seconds away from asking Wes Welker to pull a Troy Brown and play on both sides of the ball. The situation really does look to be that dire.
That's the bad news. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the Patriots won't rank 32nd in total defense and passing defense by the end of the year. Sure, that's only by default, because they're facing so many inferior offenses, but at this point, it may be the only solace you'll be able to find.
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