New England Patriots Defense Coming Full-Circle in Time for Playoffs

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New England Patriots Defense Coming Full-Circle in Time for Playoffs
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We've come to expect performances like the one we saw from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last night.

The Patriots defense, however, turned in a night like we haven't seen from it in quite some time.

On a rare night when the Patriots defense forced just one turnover, it got its most well-rounded defensive performance of the season, and did so against the Houston Texans.

Not only have the Patriots played their best defense of the season over the past six games, but some of the best defense in the league over that stretch.

The wheels have been spinning in the right direction for the Patriots defense over the past six games, but it put its foot on the gas against Houston. The same Patriots defense that got burned in the air like the Human Torch earlier this season is the same Patriots defense (or rather, a retooled facsimile) that 

The same Patriots defense which allowed 163 points (23.8 average) in the first seven games, ranks sixth in scoring defense over the past six games, allowing 111 points (18.5 average) in that stretch, and now now ranks 11th in scoring.

The Patriots have held their opponents to fewer points each week since the bye, but thus far, we had yet to see them turn in a top-notch defensive performance in a game where they didn't force multiple turnovers.

That prompted this writer to wonder whether the defense could continue to get turnovers in the postseason. This performance prompts a reassessment of that concern.

Turnovers have become the prime focus of this defense; safety Devin McCourty, who logged the team's lone turnover on a first-quarter interception of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, admitted as much after the game (via Patriots.com):

Our focus is to try to keep getting turnovers. We had a couple more chances today that we really need to take advantage of, but that was just a big turnover at that point in the game, just to get our offense back on the field. We talk about it all the time, but if we get the offense the ball when they’re hot they can put up a lot of points fast, so we just try to keep doing it.

Turnovers, schmurnovers.

In fact, they have picked up just one turnover in each of their past two games (averaging 2.6 turnovers per game) while holding their opponents to a combined 30 points (averaging 21.1 points allowed per game).

McCourty's move to the back end of the secondary, along with the addition of cornerback Aqib Talib, has greatly aided the Patriots' ability to stop the pass.

The Patriots allowed 39 pass plays of 20 yards or more in their first seven games of the season (5.7 per game) and have allowed 24 in the six games since (four per game). They had also allowed nine passing touchdowns of 20 yards or more through seven games, but have allowed just two in the six games since.

It would be unjust to praise the turnaround of the pass defense without a hat tip to the consistency of New England's front seven against the run, which was key in their decisive dominance of Houston's ground game, and subsequently of their offense as a whole. 

Texans running back Arian Foster totaled 46 yards on 15 carries (3.1 YPA) for the game, and the Texans struggled to pick up 42 yards on 13 carries (3.2 YPA) in the first half.

Those numbers are a testament to a dominant game from the defensive line, but they are nothing new.

"Obviously, we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders," said linebacker Jerod Mayo (via Patriots.com), "[with] everyone talking about the Houston Texans. And I think our defensive line went out there and played well today—Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, [Brandon] Deaderick, all those guys, Trevor Scott—those guys played very well today and kept us going in the back end."

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Mayo added, "we always pride ourselves on the run game." With season numbers that have them ranked seventh against the run, allowing 3.9 YPA, that pride manifests itself on the field regularly.

It was a well-rounded performance for what is increasingly becoming a well-rounded defense.

With the playoffs right around the corner, the Patriots defense is proving that it is no longer a liability. 

 

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 or via team press releases.

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