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Pats Defense is Legit

New England's defense has shown a major improvement from last year (and years prior). It's time to take them seriously.

Scott Cunningham

It’s been a while since the Patriots defense was considered elite by most peoples’ standards. And it may still be a bit premature to use that term so let’s go with very good.

For the past few seasons New England was regarded as one of the worst in the NFL:

2010 – 25th in total defense.

2011 – 31st

2012 – 25th

But this year, things are a little different. New England has surrendered just 14.25 points per game (6th in NFL) through its first four contests. To put it in context, the best defense during the Bill Belichick era came in 2003, when the Patriots allowed just 14.9 points per game.

Last night the defense faced its first true test, going up against Matt Ryan and the high-powered Atlanta Falcons offense. The birds have been hampered by various injuries—most notably Roddy White (ankle) and Steven Jackson (hamstring)—but still rank as the seventh best offense in the league.

Belichick had high praise for Mike Smith’s offense saying, “That’s a good skilled team offensively. They have good tight ends, good backs, good receivers and a good quarterback. It’s hard to get them all stopped but I thought our guys competed hard against them."

New England’s red zone defense continued to shine, holding Atlanta to just one touchdown in its first three trips inside the 20-yard line. The Patriots’ 33.33% opponent red zone touchdown rate ranks fourth-best in the league.

Had it not been for a late comeback by the Falcons—who were the beneficiaries of an onside recovery and a failed fourth-down conversion by the Patriots—they likely would have been held to just 13 points.

A lot of that can be credited to Aqib Talib who had an interception (his fourth of the year) and four passes defended, including the game-saving play on a pass-breakup in the end zone to Roddy White on the Falcons last offensive play of the game.

“You got the whole league watching us, I mean, whole world watching,” said Talib. “Everybody picked us to lose. Y’all guys, everybody picked us to lose. Hey, it don’t get no better than that.”

It will certainly be interesting to see if the defense can continue to play at this level, especially Week 6 when they have another tough draw, taking on the New Orleans Saints at home.

However fans will probably have their calendars marked for Week 12, when Peyton Manning, Wes Welker and the top-rated Denver Broncos come to town for another Sunday night matchup.