Seeing Tom Brady and the Patriots dismantle the Houston Texans on Monday night was pleasurable enough. But what was truly endearing to New England fans was just how well the defense played — and that that’s been a trend for several weeks now.
The “bend not break” defense out of Foxboro has been doing a lot less breaking and much more bending recently. While the early part of the season was marked with close losses, long completions, penalty flags against the secondary and a general sense of distrust when the offense didn’t have the ball, recent games have gone much better.
The addition of Aqib Talib has led to a reshuffling of the safeties and cornerbacks, which means more players are in roles where they can excel. That, coupled with an already strong rush defense, has helped New England shut down teams in all parts of the game, leading to less points and yards allowed.
The Patriots came into this season with several promising defensive rookies in Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Alfonzo Dennard. Their contributions, plus the usual stellar work of the likes of Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty and Jerod Mayo, have this defense looking as good as it has been for years.
But a recent uptick in performance doesn’t guarantee prolonged success. Many Patriots fans are still terrified that, come playoff time, New England will be just one or two blown assignments away from losing a game that this team should win. Is the Patriots’ defense altogether better, or just somewhat improved? Can these players be trusted in big games?