The New England Patriots have the second fewest takeaways through 9 games in franchise history. The defense has intercepted 5 passes and recovered two fumbles; the special teams unit has recovered two more fumbles.
The only Patriots defense with fewer takeaways was the 2005 unit with just 8 (4 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries). The 2005 and the 2016 Patriots are the only teams to have single digit takeaways through 9 games in franchise history.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia thinks the opportunities for turnovers are down and he has a point.
“I think you’ve got to give credit to certainly the teams we’ve played,” Patricia said on Tuesday. “I don’t think you can go as many years in a row as we’ve gone with high turnover numbers and have an opponent look at you and say, ‘We’ve got to do a really good job of protecting the ball.’ Some of that goes to the opponents that we’re playing and those guys are doing a great job of protecting the ball and making sure that they don’t turn it over and give us those opportunities, or try to limit those opportunities that come up in the game.
“Certainly there have been some opportunities in the game that we’ve got to do a better job of taking advantage of. A lot of that is, sometimes it’s focus, concentration or whatever the case may be. We’ve got to do a better job of staying on those situations when they come up and being alert and aware.”
Teams around the league are protecting the football more than ever and takeaway numbers are down across the entire league.
Teams have realized that winning the turnover battle is the biggest key to winning the game. The Patriots have always had an incredibly low turnover rate and now other teams are following their model.
But still, other teams have found a way to force turnovers (maybe the Patriots takeaway count would be better if they had a chance to play Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick). What’s the Patriots problem? Is it scheme? Is it personnel?
“I don’t know if I’d really go with the scheme part of it as much as just, you know, there are definitely opportunities in the game where those turnover opportunities come up whether the ball is out, in the air, or whatever the particular case may be,” Patricia said. “We just have to make sure we come up with those opportunities.”
“Then there’s a portion of those that come up in the years that there’s turnovers that happen to be the way that the ball bounces in some cases where we wind up getting a loose ball that runs our way,” Patricia added. “So it’s kind of a combination of all of those.
“Certainly something that we’re trying to do a great job of fundamentally – always tackling and taking the ball away – tackling and turnover are something we emphasize. Our first priority is going to be to tackle and tackle well, which is something that we’re going to always try to do. Then we’re going to try to attack the ball when we can.”
So Patricia doesn’t believe the scheme is at fault, so much as players not capitalizing on their break-ups- and to be fair, the cornerbacks have certainly dropped interceptable passes in recent weeks. Fumble luck, as Patricia described, also plays a role as the Patriots have recovered just 11 of the 30 fumbles that have occurred in their games.
Maybe the ball will bounce the Patriots way over the final weeks of the season. Maybe opposing quarterbacks will start taking more risks and the Patriots will be able to capitalize on errant throws.
And maybe it is the scheme itself, or the fact that players aren’t thriving in the scheme, as the defense has racked up a mere 16 sacks, tied for second-fewest in the Bill Belichick era (ahead of only the 2005 defense, again, with 13 sacks).
The Patriots had to shake up their defensive front as they pulled Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in favor of Rob Ninkovich and Trey Flowers on the edge. Perhaps that will be the shift that the Patriots can point towards if the defense starts forcing takeaways over the remainder of the season.