FOXBORO, Mass. — It turns out the New England Patriots’ defensive issues ran much deeper than Jamie Collins’ freelancing.
In fact, on the surface, trading Collins to the Cleveland Browns only made the Patriots’ defense worse Sunday night in their 31-24 loss at home to the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots had their worst defensive performance of the season, allowing 420 total yards with 324 coming through the air and 96 on the ground to a Seahawks rushing attack that recently had struggled mightily.
Perhaps most damning? The Patriots, with the ball at Seattle’s 2-yard line and just 43 seconds left on the clock, weren’t in a hurry to score while trailing 31-24. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady admitted as much after the game.
“It was just some situational football,” Brady said. “We were trying to get it very close but not in.”
Brady carried the ball for 1 yard. Then running back LeGarrette Blount carried the ball for no gain. Then Brady lost a yard when he fumbled on an attempted quarterback keeper. The Patriots got back to the 1-yard line on a defensive penalty, then Brady threw incomplete to Rob Gronkowski on fourth down. Game over.
“We were definitely trying to score, but managing the clock was part of it,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game.
Maybe they should have scored when they had the chance.
But really, can you blame them for not? The Patriots’ defense allowed a touchdown in just 59 seconds to end the first half. It certainly wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Seahawks to drive down the field and kick a field goal to close out the game. In fact, given how the Patriots’ defense played, it was the likely outcome. The Patriots had confidence their offense could score from the 1-yard line in a pinch on third or fourth down. And they had no confidence their defense wouldn’t be pushed 40 yards down the field in 46 seconds.
The Patriots’ defense came into the game allowing the fewest points per game in the NFL, and the team was 7-1. Because of that I have been hesitant to criticize the defense too heavily through eight games. The Patriots had a winning formula. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was producing results and preventing points.
That blew up Sunday night, and the defense was exposed for what it was: fairly talented but mediocre.
Hopes were high entering the season after the Patriots’ 2015 defensive effort. They had talent at all starting positions, but now that talent isn’t playing to its potential, and the Patriots’ coaching and scheme isn’t helping matters. Only defensive end Trey Flowers, with two sacks, stood out Sunday night. Even Malcolm Butler, who was playing like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL through eight games, allowed seven catches on eight targets for 66 yards with a touchdown.
The Patriots’ defense must improve moving forward. How? That’s for Belichick to figure out, but playing more aggressively and trying to force turnovers might help. After trading Collins and Chandler Jones, they no longer have the potential to be a top unit. It’s about getting by at this point.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images