Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense have recorded just five passing plays over 20 yards, and their longest run has been for 17 yards. Brady has completed just 1 of 13 passes that has traveled over 20 yards — a 44-yarder to Julian Edelman in Week 1.
The Patriots’ defense, on the other hand, has allowed the second fewest big plays on the season, with just six (behind the Seattle Seahawks), all of which have come in the passing game. They’ve allowed only two receptions on 14 targets that have traveled over 20 yards in the air, and they’ve picked off three of those attempts.
That’s a major change from last year, and an even bigger one from 2011 and 2012, when the Patriots’ defense was the worst in the NFL at allowing explosive passing plays. The Patriots allowed 79 passing plays for over 20 yards in 2011, 74 in 2012 and 55 in 2013 (20th in the NFL).
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Patriots have shown major improvements in this facet of the game. Not only do the Patriots have one of the best free safeties in the NFL to take the top off the defense in Devin McCourty, but they also added one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL over the offseason in Darrelle Revis.
“As a secondary, as a whole, deep balls will kill you, and they’ll kill any defense,” Revis said Thursday in the Patriots’ locker room.
Keeping plays in front of him helps explain why Revis allowed five catches on six targets for 63 yards in Week 3 against the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots’ defense wasn’t playing overly aggressive against rookie quarterback Derek Carr, and the game plan netted them a 16-9 win.
“We just gotta keep on playing great defense, covering guys and locking down with them and try to not let deep balls over our head,” Revis said. “We’ve been doing a really great job of not letting deep balls over our head early on in the season, so we just gotta keep on staying consistent in that area.”
The Patriots practice just three days a week, but they focus on the deep ball on two separate days, with an emphasis on offense one day and defense the next.
McCourty, who was drafted in the first round as a cornerback in 2010, was in New England during the dark days when throwing deep on the Patriots was nearly as easy as completing a screen pass. McCourty said there’s “a lot” of focus in practice on preventing those explosive plays.
“Bill (Belichick)’s always talking about it. Matty P (defensive coordinator Matt Patricia)’s always talking about it,” McCourty said Thursday in the Patriots’ locker room. “It’s the quickest way to lose games defensively, and it’s big for offenses if you can get it all on one play. We’re always talking about it. Me being a safety, it’s one of my top things, just always talking about defending the deep part of the field, and I think it’s been big not only in the pass game but when runs do break through, that we’re able to tackle and get guys to the ground.”
As long as the Patriots keep preventing big plays on defense, it might not matter if Brady continues to struggle throwing deep.
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