Don't let the Patriots top ranked passing defense fool you: they're not playing to their highest capabilities. The team ranks 1st in the league in opposing passing yards per game and 10th in opposing rushing yards; combining for a third ranked yards allowed per game. For all the success, the points allowed ranks a mediocre 14th.
This is different from years past, where they would rank 26th in yards allowed, but 10th in points allowed (2013), or 9th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed (2012) [or combine the two years and rank 6th in points and 29st in yards].
The return of cornerback Brandon Browner gives the defense a chance to remodel its identity and improve their points allowed to be more in line with the yards ranking.
Through the first quarter of the season, the gameplans have been inexplicably inconsistent. Whether the team is forcing Chandler Jones to play 3-4 defensive end, or playing Darrelle Revis in deep zone coverage, it seems as if the coaching staff is unsure of how to best utilize the talent.
The year has been reactionary from a coaching standpoint, allowing the opposition to dictate how the Patriots align on both offense and defense. The coaches expect pressure on offense and change the game plan to include more quick passing plays; this blows up when the Chiefs don't take the bait and just sit in coverage.
The same applies for the defense. Instead of sticking with a defensive formation that should be successful, the coaches continue to change based upon who they're facing. This is smart coaching, until it turns into overthinking. There's absolutely no reason for Jones to play on the interior, or Dominique Easley to play contain at the nose, or to play contain on a rookie quarterback who thrives on taking the easy passes.
The coaches should be letting the players play to their individual strengths, and hopefully the return of Browner will allow that.
Pulpiteer ISN suggested that perhaps Revis hasn't been playing press man coverage because it doesn't play to the strengths of Logan Ryan, the corner on the other side of the field. Perhaps if Alfonzo Dennard were healthy, we would have seen more man coverage at this point in the season.
Fellow Pulpiteer AMORALES pointed out that Ryan could have played off-man on the other side, if the coaches didn't want the corner in press due to his questionable recovery speed. Regardless, the coaches opted to feature a heavy amount of zone looks in the first four games.
The soft zone coverage, in combination with the coaches not putting the team's pass rushers in the best situation to succeed, led to Alex Smith passing down the field, seemingly at will.
The return of Browner will give the Patriots two viable press corners to hopefully use Revis' skill set more effectively. We have not yet seen the defense's true ability. Perhaps Browner is the catalyst that will elevate both the coaching staff and the defense to reach their full potential.