Patriots Struggles Run Deeper Than Anemic Offense

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It's easy to look at a New England Patriots team that ranks 24th in total offense, 27th in points per game and 30th in passing offense, and pin all of the team's problems on that unit.  I know Cam Newton is the easy target for everybody's criticism - and look, for a guy that has thrown five TD's and ten INT's, I get it - but it's foolish to think that simply replacing Newton next year makes this team a Super Bowl contender again.  Quarterback is just the tip of the iceberg.

Photo courtesy of South Florida Sun Sentinel
Save some of your negative energy for the defensive side of the ball; they haven't exactly been world beaters this year.  Sure, they have a top 10 passing defense and are in the top 10 in terms of points allowed per game.  Looks great, right?  But then, oh wait...what's this down here...27th in the league in rushing defense.  Only five teams have a rushing defense worse than the Patriots.  That's a far cry from a team that ranked sixth in rushing defense last year.

The numbers speak for themselves.  Nine teams have rushed for more than 100 yards on them, and five have rushed for over 150.  In their last two contests, they've allowed over 430 yards rushing combined.  In each of those games, they have allowed the opposing offense to drive at least 90 yards, and take more than nine minutes off of the clock.  Miami had two drives of 90 yards or more this past Sunday, despite the fact that they were missing their top wide receiver and tight end.

In their last five games, the Patriots defense has allowed 13 drives of ten plays or more.  In perhaps the most Patriot stat ever though, only four of those 13 drives ended in touchdowns; three ended in field goals, and somehow six of these drives ended without points.  This is a perfect illustration of the "bend, don't break" mentality that has come to define Bill Belichick's defenses over the past two decades.

The problem is there is no longer a high-powered offense led by Tom Brady to depend on.  In previous seasons, a ten play drive to nowhere, or leading to a field goal, was a death sentence for opposing teams.  With how quickly, and frequently, Brady and company could put up points, teams couldn't afford to come away empty handed on these long drives.  That's no longer the case. 

Forget about scoring quickly, this Patriot offense has enough trouble scoring, period.  So, when opposing teams hold the ball for more than half of a quarter, regardless of whether or not the drive finishes in the endzone, it makes the margin of error for the Patriot offense even smaller.  These past two games have been prime examples.

Leading 9-7 in the third quarter, New England allowed Miami to march 90 yards downfield in 14 plays, take up over six minutes of game play and score a touchdown.  After responding with a field goal to pull within 15-12, the defense failed, yet again, to get a stop.  Miami started their next drive with just over nine minutes left, went 75 yards in 11 plays, scored a game-sealing touchdown and ate up almost six more minutes of gameplay.

Two games prior against the Rams, the Pats found themselves trailing 17-3 in the early stages of the second half.  A strong Jake Bailey punt had the Rams starting at their own 10-yard line.  A quick stop, and the defense could have given the offense a short field to work with.  Instead, they allowed the Rams to go 90 yards, in 16 plays, take almost ten minutes off the clock and seal New England's fate.

And teams are doing their damage on the ground.  There is just no resistance from the front seven, and you look at the roster and it makes sense.  There isn't a single first round pick up front.  Their two best defensive linemen are a seventh-round pick in Lawrence Guy and an undrafted player in Adam Butler.  With the exception of Josh Uche - who is a rookie - every other linebacker or defensive linemen was selected in the third round or later.

Belichick's strategy of finding good value in late rounds has been great for twenty years, when Brady and a talented offense could cover up for some of those deficiencies.  Without that luxury anymore, it's time to invest some meaningful draft capital on the front seven. 


Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Patriots Struggles Run Deeper Than Anemic Offense
Patriots Struggles Run Deeper Than Anemic Offense
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