Patriots Defensive Struggles Will Help Them During the NFL Playoffs

Jonathan CullenSenior Writer IOctober 24, 2012

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Patriots head coach Bill BelichickGreg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Somewhere deep inside Gillette Stadium last Sunday night, I wonder if Patriots' coach Bill Belichick smiled to himself—if he allows himself to do that type of thing.

The 19th-ranked Patriots defense had come up with a crucial stop in overtime to give the struggling team a much-needed win.

The Patriots' defense has been a source of constant frustration to the entire New England region. They struggle to get off the field on third down and they can't make key stops at the end of the game.

The Patriots' secondary can make even the most pedestrian wide receiver look like a Pro Bowler.

And I don't think Bill Belichick is concerned about it in the slightest.

Call it arrogance or call it confidence, but the Patriots are playing the longest exhibition schedule in the history of the NFL, 20 games to be exact.

Maybe the Patriots looked at their schedule and the AFC East and figured it was worth a gamble.

The Patriots have become the New York Yankees of football. Making the postseason is expected. If they don't win a championship, the season is viewed as a failure.

It doesn't matter how many games the Patriots win this season as long as they make the playoffs. The win total is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the New England Patriots defense is ready for the playoffs.

Somewhere in the rubble of the Patriots' season-ending Super Bowl loss last season, Belichick must have admitted to himself that it was time to revamp the defense. New England needed to get younger and more athletic. New England needed to be able to pressure the opposing quarterbacks.

The Patriots had found themselves again with a lead against the Giants late in the Super Bowl, and again the defense was unable to get a stop.

It was deja vu all over again.

The Giants offense had made the plays that the Patriots defense had not. It is hard not to view both Super Bowl 42 and 46 as wasted opportunities.

Tom Brady's window is closing. It's time to try something different.

Drafting Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower were the first two steps in that direction. Adding both of those players to the Patriots' defensive core gives Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia multiple options to play with during the game. The Patriots are trying to teach, develop and win at the same time.

Returning New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is integrating the running game into the Patriots' offense in order to limit the amount of time the defense is on the field.

Will this work? We won't know until the playoffs start and the Patriots have a late fourth quarter lead, and the Broncos, Texans, Steelers or Ravens are marching down the field trying to win the game.

Until then, we won't know if this season has been a success or failure.