As everyone knows by now, the Patriots did not look good while on defense against the Colts. Our very own Jack'sAxe has compiled the results of the finals drives as the Patriots played prevent to close the game. The outlook? Not as successful as it could have/should have been, but the Patriots still walked away with a win. Whether or not a team that was up 31-3 should have to barely walk away with a win is a different question because a win is a win.
Still, the Patriots have a habit of allowing bad teams to notch huge numbers when the game is out of hand. When the Patriots are three scores ahead of opposing teams and late in the game, they usually shift to soft coverage in order to run down the clock on the opposing team. This allows the Patriots offense to rest, while using a simple defensive scheme to keep the opposing offense in front of the defenders. The goal is to not allow the big play and to force long methodical marches down the field.
That's where the problems start.
Out of the 12 games this season, the Patriots have had considerable leads late in the game in six of those contests- Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets (round 2), Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Indianapolis Colts. These leads can start as early as the end of the third quarter (Colts), giving opposing offenses plenty of time against the soft coverage. On average, opposing defenses are seeing the soft coverage for around half of the fourth quarter.
The following table shows opposing quarterback's total stats compared to their "garbage time" states, and the relative percentage:
Total Garbage Percentage QB Yards TDs INTs Yards TDs INTs Yards TDs INTs Week 1 Chad Henne 416 2 1 183 1 1 43.99% 50.00% 100.00% Week 2 Philip Rivers 378 2 2 N/A N/A Week 3 Ryan Fitzpatrick 369 2 2 N/A N/A Week 4 Jason Campbell 344 1 2 159 1 1 46.22% 100.00% 50.00% Week 5 Mark Sanchez 166 2 0 N/A N/A Week 6 Tony Romo 317 1 1 N/A N/A Week 7 BYE Week 8 Ben Roethlisberger 365 2 1 N/A N/A Week 9 Eli Manning 250 2 1 N/A N/A Week 10 Mark Sanchez 306 1 2 100 0 0 32.68% 0.00% 0.00% Week 11 Tyler Palko 230 0 3 115 0 1 50.00% 0.00% 33.33% Week 12 Vince Young 400 1 1 103 1 0 25.75% 100.00% 0.00% Week 13 Dan Orlovsky 353 2 1 264 2 1 74.79% 100.00% 100.00% Sum 3894 18 17 924 5 4 23.73% 27.78% 23.53%
Now these are not exact figures of each play the Patriots have played soft coverage- the Patriots were forced to play tighter coverage on the Colts' final touchdown drive. Still, these are the numbers of opposing quarterbacks after the Patriots have taken large enough leads where they can hunker down and force long drives.
As you can see, nearly 75% of Orlovsky's production came after the Patriots were up 31-3 and, while they weren't in total prevent defense, they were definitely sitting back to prevent points. Of course, with big leads, it's not always an issue to allow yards as it will chew up the clock. It doesn't matter That Chad Henne, Jason Campbell, and Tyler Palko doubled their output in the fourth quarter. As long as the Patriots defense prevents big plays, they can say they're doing their job to burn the clock. That's hasn't been the case.
The following is a list of the opposing drives:
Chad Henne: Allowed three drives that were on pace (and within reaching distance) of 75 yards in under 3 minutes. Allowed plays of 18, 19, 21, 23, 26, and 31 yards.
Jason Campbell: Allowed one drive of 99 yards in 48 seconds. Allowed plays of 35 and 58 yards.
Mark Sanchez: Allowed two drives of around 50 yards in under 2 minutes. Allowed play of 38 yards.
Tyler Palko: Allowed one drive of 70 yards in 4 minutes that was intercepted in the end zone. Allowed plays of 25 and 25 yards.
Vince Young: Allowed one drive of 90 yards in 4.5 minutes. Allowed play of 24 yards.
Dan Orlovsky: Allowed three drives of 85+ yards. One in 8 minutes (good), one in 4 minutes (not good), one in 1 minute (awful). Allowed plays of 33 and 40 yards.
Looking at those drives, the Patriots defense is allowing around 80 yards in a little over 3 minutes while in soft coverage. Of course, the data is skewed by the two drives of 95+ yards in around 1 minute, but even if those plays are removed, opposing quarterbacks can still move the ball around 80 yards in 4 minutes (although if you remove the 8 minute long 85 yard drive by Orlovsky, the data moves back towards 70 yard drives in 3 minutes).
The point is, the soft coverage defense is not consistently performing at a high level. Of course there are times where they've been able to stifle the opposing offense in the final minutes of the game. However, they've allowed 12 plays of 20+ yards, or around 2 per soft coverage game, which demonstrates a need for better execution.
This defense is not as bad as the three drive soft coverage team that showed up against the Colts. They're not as good as the defense that showed up against the Chiefs. While neither of those teams should exude any confidence as benchmarks, it's clear the Patriots defense is somewhere in the middle of the performances from those two games. If there's anything to take away, it's that the defense needs to be better at preventing the big play because if there's anything coach Bill Belichick will say to his defense, it's "Do your job."
And they had better start doing it now.
On another note, don't freak out about the defense. The sum row shows that 25% of the production from opposing quarterbacks have happened against a basic soft coverage. And while adjusting the defensive output to match the regular defense's numbers would still place the Patriots towards the bottom of the league, it would put them right on pace with (actually ahead of) the Green Bay Packers who, so I've heard, field a pretty good team.