The New England Patriots defense is like new packaging on a bag of Doritos. The new roster makes this unit look different, but when we open up the package, we get the same taste we've come to know over the past few years.
Their biggest problems on Sunday night were up front, and if those problems don't get corrected quickly, we could find ourselves having many of the same discussions that became common fodder for Boston sports radio in the fall and winter of 2011.
There were a lot of bright spots on defense in the first two weeks. Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones and rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower teamed up to make the play that swung the game against the Tennessee Titans. The unit as a whole kept the Patriots in it until the end against the Arizona Cardinals, even while their offense failed to put up points.
But that all seems so long ago.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco performed open-heart surgery on this Patriots defense, completing 71.8 percent of his passes.
But the precision wasn't what did the Patriots in. The Patriots have given up higher completion percentages than that in the past 12 months.
Just as it's been for years, the big plays were what stood out.
The Patriots gave up nine pass plays of 20 yards or more against the Ravens. Sound familiar? That's because the Patriots gave up 79 of them in 2011, ranking No. 32 in the NFL.
The nine they gave up against the Ravens skews the number a bit, but on their current pace of 14 through three games, the Patriots would finish with just under 75 pass plays of 20 or more yards allowed.
As for the nine big pass plays which occurred last night, four of those came in the fourth quarter alone.
On those four plays, this is what Flacco's protection looked like.
In no particular order, he had 4.5, 4.4, 2.6 and 2.2 seconds in the pocket to make those reads and throws.
The fact that Joe Flacco was able to carve up the Patriots defense with that much of a pocket is not a surprise at all. The only surprise is that the Patriots defense remains incapable of pressuring the quarterback.
Last year, they got pressure on quarterbacks on just 213 of 688 snaps (30.96) according to Pro Football Focus. When they got pressure, it was effective in disrupting the quarterback, but it was so infrequent, it almost didn't even matter.
It was a typical up-and-down night for the secondary, with Kyle Arrington missing an interception as he tripped over his own two feet, while Devin McCourty dropped a pair off his fingertips. When they weren't almost making plays, they were giving up big ones. Arrington lost sight of the ball in coverage on the first touchdown to Torrey Smith, which was admittedly a beautiful throw-and-catch by Flacco and Smith.
The list is as long as the number of big plays the Patriots gave up, but ultimately, the number of big plays they give up would be much lower if the Patriots had a consistent pass rush.
With the Bills up next, the Patriots will have a big challenge on their hands up against an offensive line that has yet to allow a single sack in 2012. They'll have to figure out how to get after the passer in a hurry, in a hurry.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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