New England Patriots: 5 Reasons to Not Panic About the Defense
What’s starting to emerge from the dust after Tom Brady’s jaw-dropping, record-setting performance in the season debut against the Dolphins is the fact that the Patriots defense gave up nearly 500 yards of offense themselves—400 of them coming via Chad Henne and the air.
As a result, some Patriots fans and media pundits are already growing concerned that this is the same Patriots team as last year: great on offense, mediocre on defense. But in reality, Pats fans should put little stock into the concern about the defense—yet. Here are five reasons why.
The NFL Is a Passing League
In case you haven’t yet realized, the NFL these days is a purely passing league. For hard proof of this, look no further than this past opening week in the league, one which saw a record 13 quarterbacks throw for more than 300 yards.
Even a ground-and-pound team like the Jets had Mark Sanchez throwing the rock 40 times against the Cowboys. And you know why? It’s because they know they need to throw the ball more this year if they finally want to fulfill Rex Ryan’s grandiose Super Bowl prediction.
Those people concerned about Chad Henne’s performance against the Pats defense should just calm down. Green Bay’s defense was abused by Drew Brees last week; are they flipping the panic switch right now?
Even the best defenses are becoming powerless against the pass. Pittsburgh’s defense is widely regarded as one of the best in the business, and how have they fared in their last two meaningful games against Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco?
It's Week 1
Let’s take a look at the past two Super Bowl champions (Packers and Saints) and try to remember how they fared early on in their championship seasons. Does anybody remember? Does anybody care? Exactly.
Sure the Patriots defense looked shaky at times this past Monday night in South Beach. But should we be that concerned about the play of anybody after one week? After all, aren’t the first couple of weeks in the regular season merely an extended version of the preseason?
In any sport—especially pro football—it’s now how you start, it’s how you finish (example: 2010 Green Bay Packers). If the Patriots allow Chad Henne to put up similar numbers in their December rematch, then it’s time to panic. But until then, just sit back and enjoy the extended preseason.
The Eye Test
Yes, on paper, the Patriots defense didn’t fare too well on Monday. But as they say, games aren’t played on paper.
To accurately gauge how well the D fared, you have to give them the eye test: how did they actually look on the field? While they may have failed the overrated stat test, they passed the eye test.
A motivated Albert Haynesworth played very well on the line, stuffing the run and pushing the pocket on nearly every down he played. Linebackers Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich and Dane Fletcher made positive plays throughout the game. And in the secondary, Patrick Chung showed signs that he’s ready to have a breakout 2011, while rookie Ras-I Dowling looks the part of a shutdown corner in the making.
If you want to look at the stats Miami compiled offensively—many of which came after the outcome was decided—and conclude that New England’s defense is doomed, fine. But as many prominent football minds have said before: stats are for losers.
For a team that went 14-2 last season, the Patriots had a lot of roster changes this offseason—especially on defense. The entire line was revamped—to the point where Bill Belichick abandoned his patented 3-4 defense in favor of a 4-3.
And the secondary also saw some major overhaul—especially at safety. So then isn’t it safe to conclude that one reason why the Patriots struggled at times against Miami’s passing attack is because they’re just now learning how to play with one another?
Like it or not, this Patriots defense is going to need a few weeks to gel before they start performing at a high level. From what I’ve seen, the Patriots have the talent on defense, they just need the chemistry. If and when they get it, they won’t allow Chad Henne another field day.
The Patriots Are Following the Super Bowl Formula
Defense wins championships, right? Not in the 21st century National Football League. If you haven’t yet realized it, the formula for winning it all these days consists of a dominant passing attack coupled with a good-enough defense.
Just look at the last three champions: the Packers, Saints and Steelers. In Super Bowl 43, the mighty Pittsburgh defense was shredded by Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, but they were good enough to allow Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Homles enough time to work their aerial magic.
The same held true in the last two Super Bowls as well. So if that’s the formula, the Patriots are on their way to filling in the missing equation. The defense doesn’t have to be dominant, just good enough.
Because it’s painfully obvious that Tom Brady and his dangerous weapons make up an unstoppable passing team. If the defense can just hold serve—which they have the talent to do—then a fourth championship for Brady and Belichick is well within reach.