The main difference between the 2015 and 2016 New England Patriots defense has been the ability to generate turnovers. Prior to a 2nd quarter fumble recovery against the Jets, the Patriots hadn’t forced a turnover in 16 straight quarters. And while the offense did a good job of protecting the football over that time frame, the final scores ended up closer than anticipated.
Now the Patriots get to face Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff and the defense will try to continue forcing turnovers, hoping to capitalize on any mistakes the young quarterback might make. Free safety Devin McCourty scoffs at the idea of rookie quarterbacks making more mistakes and understands the challenge ahead.
“[Goff is] still a rookie but he has a lot of learning under his belt just from watching other guys and sitting in those meetings and going through all of those things,” McCourty said on Wednesday. “I think he has a high awareness of where the ball needs to go and how to take care of the ball. There’s no faster way to lose a game than turn the ball over and I think teams understand that and it’s a big emphasis.”
The Patriots have only grabbed five interceptions on the year and two of them were by former linebacker Jamie Collins. The defense has forced 10 fumbles and only recovered 3 of them, including the game winner by Chris Long against the Jets. If the Patriots want to take advantage of a young quarterback, they’re going to need to capitalize on every single opportunity that comes their way, and not just the ones late in the fourth quarter.
“You go out there and I think you get into the fourth quarter in a close game and you realize each play matters,” McCourty said. “So I think for Chris [Long] stepping up in just a one-on-one situation beating his guy making that play, it just goes to show how much we have to play at a high level once we get in the fourth quarter, once we get down the stretch of this season. That was just a prime example of that and I think it’s something that we can definitely learn from of how we need to approach the fourth quarter in all these games down the stretch. You don’t want to have that one play that turns the game around because you weren’t as focused as you should be.”
Starting cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, and Logan Ryan have combined to break up 22 passes on the season, yet they have just one interception to show for it. That will have to change against the quietly impressive skill position group of the Rams.
The Rams have two big receivers in Kenny Britt and Brian Quick, while Tavon Austin is a homerun threat out of the slot. Even safety Patrick Chung will have his hands full against tight end Lance Kendricks.
The New England secondary cannot be content to sit back and expect Goff to throw incompletions to end drives. They must step up and attack the football whenever possible to allow the offense to run up an early lead and change the game script for the rest of the day.