The New England Patriots are coming off a down year, as silly as that sounds. The trademark of a Bill Belichick squad is their ability to control the football from start to finish, and the Patriots were unable to do that last season- partly due to injury on offense, but also because the defense wasn’t taking advantage of their turnover opportunities.
The Patriots forced a mere 21 takeaways on the season, the second lowest total in Belichick’s tenure, ahead of only the 2005 season. Quarterback Tom Brady and the offense protected the football as well as they could, with just 14 turnovers (3rd fewest under Belichick), but the defense didn’t do enough to generate a necessary turnover margin.
The 2015 turnover margin of +7 was good for 5th best in the NFL, but it was also tied with 2001 for the 6th worse by the Patriots over the past 16 seasons with Bill Belichick.
The only five seasons that had a worse turnover margin were 2005 (-6), 2000 (-2), 2008 (+1), 2002 (+5), and 2009 (+6). I think most can agree that these were the worst seasons by the Patriots with Belichick at head coach.
So the Patriots need to turn their focus towards forcing more turnovers in 2016. Based on their production this preseason, the New England defense is trending the right direction.
In the three preseason games, the Patriots defense has tallied 6 interceptions and forced 3 fumbles, recovering 2 of them. The offense has just one turnover so far, an ugly red zone fumble by Brandon Bolden, so the team has done a great job of controlling the football.
I have to think that regression alone will result in more turnovers because this is a good defense. I would be shocked if the takeaway amount was as low as it was in 2015; I would expect it to be closer to 30, which is the average of the past five seasons and under Belichick’s entire tenure.
The Patriots will need the defense to step up if they are going to win with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback for the first four games of the season. Garoppolo has done a good job of protecting the football, but he has struggled in the face of pressure.
If the defense can give Garoppolo a few short fields off of turnovers, and if the offense can protect the ball, then the Patriots have a shot.