Does This Patriots Defense Have A Weakness?


On the Syndicate's debut episode of Fire the Muskets - our monthly New England Patriots podcast - we talked about the dominance of the defense, and if there were any concerns moving forward.  This discussion came on the heels of Nick Chubb's 130-yard performance last Sunday.

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If there has been one thing you could point to as an area where the defense has given up some plays, it's been on the ground.  It got me thinking, so I decided to take a deeper dive into things.

Through eight games, this defense has been almost impenetrable.  They have scored as many touchdowns as they have allowed.  In the passing game, it’s required nearly perfect throws to gain any yardage.  However, in the run game, yards have been easier – albeit still not easy – to come by.

The team still has a top 5 rush defense, but we have seen some teams make headway on the ground.  After last Sunday’s performance by Chubb, it makes you wonder if the Browns showed the rest of the league something, or if it was just a combination of game plan and the weather. 

Cleveland may not be the team that everybody expected them to be heading into the season, but of New England's first eight opponents, they possessed the most individual, offensive talent.  With the weapons they have at receiver, you wonder if the Patriots focus was on limiting the the big plays through the air.
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It makes you think if they were content conceding yardage on the ground, knowing they would tighten things up in the red zone and force field goal attempts in less than ideal conditions.  Maybe they thought that by inviting Cleveland to run the ball, there would be more opportunities for this ball-hawking defense to force some turnovers; they did force two fumbles.

So, were the Pats exposed, or was it circumstantial?  Let's see how they fared in their other seven contest.

In the first three games of the season, the Patriots allowed 110 rushing yards combined, on 48 attempts.  In Week 4, Frank Gore was really the first player to gain any type of yards on the ground.  He rushed for 109 yards on just 17 carries.  However, 41 of those came on one rush.  He totaled 68 yards on the other 16 attempts.  Still, a very good 4+ yards per carry. 

That was followed up by a 145 yard performance by the Washington Redskins in Week 5.  However again, 65 of those yards came on the long touchdown run by Steven Sims.  The remaining 80 yards came on 19 attempts.  Again, a solid 4+ yard per carry average, but the three running backs who saw carries that day racked up just 66 yards on 17 carries.  All three had less than 30 yards.

Back to back strong performances against the two scrub teams from New York was followed up by Chubb's strong performance on Sunday with Cleveland.  Though 44 of his 130 yards came on one play, he still averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry on his other 19 attempts.

The Pats had trouble bringing him down too.  There were a lot of missed tackles.  It felt like more often than not, guys were in position to make a play, they just didn't.

So the question remains, has the Patriots defense shown a susceptibility to the run, or just to big plays in the run game?

We're going to get the chance to find out over the next few weeks.  Two of their next three contests will come against rushing attacks that rank among the best in the game.  First up is the Baltimore Ravens and their top rated rushing offense.

Baltimore is averaging over 200 yards on the ground per game, largely because of the mobility of Lamar Jackson.  Despite being a quarterback, Jackson ranks in the top 10 in rushing yards this season.  The Patriots have struggled with mobile quarterbacks historically, so they will have their hands full this weekend.  I'd expect somebody like Jamie Collins or Kyle Van Noy to keep an eye on him all game long.  Maybe even Devin McCourty given his speed.

However, Mark Ingram is no slouch, and he's not easy to tackle either; at 5'9", 210 lbs.  The defense will need to improve upon their tackling from last week.  Ingram's performances have been peaks and valleys this year, but he's still averaging over 4.5 yards per carry.

Three weeks later, Ezekiel Elliott and the highly touted Dallas Cowboys offensive line come to town.  Though statistically it's a down year for Elliott, he's still 6th in the league in rushing, and part of a Cowboys team that ranks 4th in the league.  Another big back who won't be easy to get down.

In between they'll face a Philadelphia team whose rushing attack has shown some potency at times this year, with guys like Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders.

Is stopping the run a weakness of this team?  We're about to find out.

Side Note
As I was putting this post together, Nick Boyle - for those asking, he plays for the Ravens - became the latest victim of New England's "bulletin board material" club.  When talking about the Patriots defense, Boyle proclaimed, "We'll see how good they are once we play them."  When will these people learn?  Belichick will use every little sound bite as a motivational tool.  These predictions/statements have never ended well for the opposing team.  We'll see if Boyle's name gets added to the list.

Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Does This Patriots Defense Have A Weakness?
Does This Patriots Defense Have A Weakness?
Boston Sports Syndicate
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