FOXBORO, Mass. — Hopes should be sky high for the Patriots’ defense after the first two weeks of the season.
New England wasn’t as dominant in stopping the Jets as they were the Bills, but they came up with far more big plays. In Week 1, the Patriots forced two turnovers and recorded zero sacks. In Thursday’s game, New England made New York turn the ball over four times and recorded four sacks. They allowed more yards, but they were also forced to be on the field for longer — much longer.
In Week 1, the Patriots’ defense was only on the field for 22 minutes, 17 seconds. That was for a combination of reasons. The Patriots were effective at eating up the clock and Doug Marrone‘s clock management was abhorrent. In game No. 2, the defense was on the field for 34:00. That, too, is for a number of reasons. The Patriots had far too many three-and-outs and the Jets were effective in running the ball.
But the Patriots prevailed. Despite a ghastly effort from the offense. Tom Brady‘s Patriots were only on the field for 26 minutes because his receivers couldn’t catch, his blockers couldn’t direct Stevan Ridley and Brady couldn’t convert on 14 of the team’s 18 third-down situations.
But, again, the Patriots won. And it was thanks to every player who came in on defense. It was a complete effort. The defensive backs succeeded because the pass rush was spot on. The pass rush was effective because the secondary was covering well. And the linebackers were able to fill holes, cover tight ends clean up wherever they had to.
“It comes along with the job, baby,” Kelly said about bailing out the offense. “Sometimes Tom and them gonna be a little struggling. That’s what our job is, to pick them up. ‘Cause you know, eventually, he’s going to get them going. We pick them up. They may pick us up next game. You do your job and make sure you’re ready when the time comes.”
This defense doesn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of being the team’s strongest unit for now. They may need to be that, though, with Shane Vereen out until Week 11 and Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola missing for a still undisclosed amount of time.
Granted, the defense is doing this against teams who were considered at the bottom of the barrel coming into the year. But last year’s unit wasn’t able to perform this well against even those teams.
“It was one of those games where the offense was stopped and derailed a few times, trying to put some drives together,” Kyle Arrington said. “We play off each other and always try to put together a complete system in the football game: offense, defense, and special teams. I thought we did a good job, especially out there on defense, coming up with some huge turnovers, especially off a short week. But with the fourth quarter and a tight game on the line, it was terrific and we’re happy with the outcome.”
The offense was only able to generate 13 points, all of which came in the first half. That meant the defense had to hold a 10-point lead for two whole quarters. They gave up one touchdown, a three-yard run by Bilal Powell in the third quarter, but held stout for the entire fourth period. The unit seems to be jelling. McCourty said the defense didn’t feel any added pressure.
“Not really,” McCourty said. “I think this team, we really pride ourselves in trying to play off each other. There’s probably going to be some games this year where we’re not playing as well as we’d hoped, and they’ll step up and they’ll play better. It’s a team game, and we just try to keep getting them the ball back, try to turn the ball over and make plays, and we know if we keep getting the ball back they’ll make the plays we need to win the game.”
It must help Brady to see these first two games and know he can rely on his defense. If this were last year, the Patriots easily could have squandered these first two games. The Jets and Bills had multiple chances to prevail in the fourth quarter, but the defense shut them down time and again.
This unit has the chance to be the best Patriots defense since 2008, when some of the big names were still around. They’ve almost completely rebuilt since that year, as only Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo are stragglers from that team that included Tedy Bruschi, who was honored during halftime for being inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
Kelly has never been on a winning team, but he’s been on some decent defenses in his day. He played with the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Charles Woodson, Warren Sapp and Richard Seymour, who was also on that 2008 team. Kelly showed some excitement over this year’s Patriots, though.
“Man, I [wasn't] on better defenses — I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t been on better defenses, I probably been on defenses with more big-name personnel, but we play together,” Kelly said. “Everybody on one accord here. Everybody, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think nobody’s really a ‘me’ guy. I don’t get that indication. I mean, Bill do a good job on us, not allowing no ‘me’ guys around here. I mean, pretty much everybody work together. We talk a lot. Communication is real good on the field. We just, man, it’s just coming together. I think we got enough here. Hopefully everybody stay healthy and I think we can be a real good defense.”
They’re already showing it so far after two impressive performances to start the season. Kelly has been a big part of it, solidifying the team from the middle. But there hasn’t been a weak link exposed yet. Depth could become an issue along the front four, but the team is still trying to fix that by acquiring new players. And while the team is more susceptible to giving up big runs when Wilfork or Kelly are rotating out, it hasn’t been completely exploited yet.
The defense is playing strong, despite some slightly below-par performances from players who have become expected to shine in every game. Wilfork, McCourty and Rob Ninkovich have yet to jump out after two weeks. But that could just be because the rest of the team is playing so well. Once those guys start popping off the screen, this defense could be even better.