FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots have the NFL’s best defense in the only two metrics that matter.
The Patriots are 10-0 after a 20-13 win over the Buffalo Bills, and they’re allowing a league-low 18.2 points per game. That’s not bad for a unit that was supposed to struggle after losing Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Vince Wilfork over the offseason.
The Patriots needed their defense to hold up Monday night as their offense was down to just two healthy receivers and an offensive line that politely could be referred to as a turnstile and more accurately would be called a sieve. The O-line officially allowed Tom Brady to be hit 10 times, though it felt like twice that number. Brady, who appeared frustrated during and after the game, eventually resorted to imitating Joe Flacco by heaving the ball in the air and hoping for a big play or penalty.
It didn’t work, and Brady had his worst game of the season.
Now, if you’re keeping score, this game goes to the defense. They allowed 5.9 yards per attempt, 4.7 yards per play and just 3.1 yards per carry. They held up in the Bills’ only trip to the red zone and stepped up when the Patriots needed them most in the fourth quarter, forcing two punts and a field goal. The Bills began their final drive at their 16-yard line with 1:51 on the clock, and the Patriots only let them get to the 32.
The Patriots’ defensive line constantly caused quarterback Tyrod Taylor discomfort by making him scramble out of the backfield, and the secondary kept covering despite the extended plays. The Patriots also came out with an unexpected game plan.
With No. 3 cornerback Justin Coleman out with a hand injury, the Patriots chose against turning to their No. 4 corner, Rashaan Melvin, and instead trusted backup safety Tavon Wilson, who had seen just nine defensive snaps coming into the game. Wilson served as the Patriots’ slot corner and nickel defensive back and held up fairly well, allowing 44 yards on three catches.
Malcolm Butler took on Bills No. 1 wideout Sammy Watkins and limited him to a pedestrian three catches for 39 yards, and Logan Ryan, who has been the Patriots’ most dependable cornerback this season, allowed just two catches on six targets for 13 yards with a pass breakup, while spending most of the game on Robert Woods.
Patrick Chung let up a long pass to wideout Chris Hogan but covered well against running backs and tight ends, while Devin McCourty was dominant, breaking up passes on both of his targets.
We’re past the halfway point of the season, and the Patriots’ defense still is excelling, showing this no longer is a fluke. It can’t be if the Patriots truly hope to reach the postseason undefeated.
The Patriots’ offense won’t be as dangerous as they were entering the season until they can get Julian Edelman back into the fold, so it will be up to the defense to continue to keep the offense in games, rather than vice versa. That’s not exactly what anyone was expecting entering the 2015 season, but it goes to show how solidly coach Bill Belichick has built this team for years.
Here are this week’s coverage stats:
Patrick Chung: 4-6, 72 yards, PBU
Tavon Wilson: 4-5, 49 yards
Malcolm Butler: 4-7, 45 yards
Dont’a Hightower: 2-2, 19 yards
Devin McCourty: 1-2, 16 yards, two PBUs
Jonathan Freeny: 1-4, 8 yards
Rob Ninkovich: 1-2, 5 yards
Logan Ryan: 1-5, 4 yards
Jerod Mayo: 0-1
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Nov 23, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) defends a pass against Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports