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No, a trade won’t fix this Patriots defense

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The calls for trades to help out the Patriots dead-last defense won’t solve what’s wrong.

Carolina Panthers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s one thing to get boat-raced in the season opener at home by a team with the clear favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year and a defense that you already knew had Pro Bowl talent at every level. But it’s a real kick in the jewels to lose to a Carolina Panthers team that’s missing one of the best tight ends in the game, are starting a wide receiver that supposedly weighed almost as much as Joe Thuney coming into training camp, and in general looking like they were playing Mario Kart and had to take a tequila shot every time they got hit.

Aaaaaaaaaand that’s what happened. It’ll really shut Gillette Stadium up when Cam Newton and the Panthers offense were able to carve up the Patriots defense like, staying with the Mario Kart thing, they had the lightning bolt whenever they were throwing the ball. Throw in the added salt that if the Patriots had gotten a stop on the last drive instead of a bonehead penalty, we’re going to overtime, and if they had gotten a stop on a drive before that - pick any drive, pick ANY of Carolina’s six scoring drives and you win - they’re not even in a situation where they’re trying to pin back their ears and play for overtime in the first place.

Now, a Belichick defense playing about as un-Belichick as is humanly possible is a shock to everyone, us at the Pulpit included. But in this episode of “Bill Belichick the GM is Killing Bill Belichick the Coach - Defense Edition!”, the idea that probably mostly started when Dion Lewis trade rumors came out a few weeks ago is growing into a full-blown TRADE FOR EVERYONE wish list/Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall singing “We gotta DOOOOOOOOO something!

No, seriously, here’s Jason La Canfora from CBS Sports on how the Patriots could have traded Jimmy Garoppolo (yes, we’re doing this again) in the offseason for a boatload of draft picks, but New England definitely needs to flip him now for some defensive help. Drink this in, it always goes down smooth:

“The New England Patriots should have traded backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the Browns, or some other such hapless franchise, for a bonanza of draft picks in the offseason. And if they want to salvage their 2017 campaign and flirt with another Lombardi Trophy -- and truly capitalize on Tom Brady's enduring greatness -- then they must strongly consider moving the young passer now.

New England must add quality pieces to its failing defense ASAP. Like now. Like, before the end of this month when the trade deadline comes around. The 49ers might be a great fit, for starters.The New England Patriots should have traded backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the Browns, or some other such hapless franchise, for a bonanza of draft picks in the offseason. And if they want to salvage their 2017 campaign and flirt with another Lombardi Trophy -- and truly capitalize on Tom Brady's enduring greatness -- then they must strongly consider moving the young passer now.”

Who should the Patriots target? I thought you’d never ask! Here’s just a few of the players New England should call about and say “Hey, _____ for Jimmy, straight up”:

  • 49ers D-linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, who were drafted 17th and 7th overall, respectively
  • 49ers safety Eric Reid
  • Chargers pass-rushers Melvin Ingram or Joey Bosa, both of whom I’m sure require no introduction
  • Giants Pro Bowl strong safety Landon Collins

...and then JLC also notes that New England probably wouldn’t trade Jimmy within the division, but the Jets and Dolphins both “have some pieces that would fit”. Of course, there’s also the mandatory Chandler Jones reference that’s a requirement any time you write about New England’s defense not getting 10 sacks a game.

Thing is, what’s killing this defense and setting records (and not the good kind) isn’t a lack of talent, it’s the same thing that people have clowned on the Saints about for years. To hear the team tell it, the guys either don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing, or they all think they’re supposed to be doing something other than what they’re actually supposed to be doing...which, as you can guess, means that someone’s not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Like this, for example!

I don’t care how hard you hit or how many sacks you get or how often you put offensive tackles on the ground, that is not a personnel issue, it’s a “pickup basketball where you break the huddle and that one guy goes ‘wait, what are we doing again?’” issue.

Safety Duron Harmon, for one, says there really isn’t a way to simplify the defense so they can get it right any more than they already have, which is, um, not great:

Devin McCourty, who probably knows this defense better than anyone at this point, agreed. From CSNNE:

“Every other play it’s just someone else,” McCourty said. “It’s across the board. We meet. We practice. We do all of those things. We’re not reinventing anything out there. I wouldn’t even say anybody’s new anymore. We’ve been here since April. It’s too long ago to be talking about 'This guy’s gone…' and honestly it doesn’t matter. I think we’ve all played enough, we had four games but we had preseason games, we practiced against other teams. … We just got to keep at it. Nobody’s going to come in here off the street and fix all our problems.”

Here’s the TL;DR - the problem isn’t a lack of talent. When guys are getting caught out of position, double-covering one guy while leaving another guy with Michael Hurley’s ZERO HUMANS defense, and leaving whole parts of the field wide open, the problem isn’t that they’re not good enough; the problem is between their ears.

It’s the exact kind of mental mistakes, miscommunications, mismatches, and missed assignments that Tom Brady and the Patriots have feasted on for years now.

Just for fun, though, let’s say New England did make a trade for some legit defensive player or players. Say they trade Jimmy, or Dion Lewis, or some draft picks or pick your combination of any of those. Whatever. It’s not really important for the sake of this example.

When New England does swing a midseason trade, as they often do, are those guys usually suiting up to play 50 snaps the next week?

Of course not. When Kyle Van Noy, who’s playing almost every single play on defense this year, got to New England, he was a healthy scratch for two weeks before finally playing, and it was almost Christmas before he was a starter for more than one game.

Same goes for Eric Rowe, who didn’t play in almost his whole first month in a Patriots uniform after getting traded from the Philadelphia Eagles last September. Granted, part of that was because he was recovering from an injury, but still. Players that don’t know the system well enough don’t see the field until they’re ready because...wait for it...what you get is exactly what’s been happening the past four weeks. They get toasted when smart offenses figure out where the holes are.

And weren’t we all booing Jamie Collins out of town last year for freelancing, not covering his assignment, and giving up big plays, like in the Buffalo game? Why, yes, we were!

That’s a guy who knows the playbook backwards and forwards, wore the green dot on his helmet when Dont’a Hightower was out with an injury, and made the Pro Bowl, and he was supposedly still doing the wrong thing and trying for the big play instead of playing his assignment. What’s going to make us think that a guy coming in from another (probably bad/rebuilding) team, like La Canfora suggested, isn’t going to do the same thing? What’s to say they’d execute the exact right assignment every time instead of gambling and trying for the big sack or biting hard on play-action? Think of all the Belichick trades that haven’t worked out. Adding a new piece that’s a complete wild card always has the possibility of blowing up in your face. I’m sure I don’t need to mention Albert Haynesworth or Terrance Knighton, but, well, there you go.

It’d be great to get some heat going with the pass rush, obviously, but like McCourty and Harmon put it earlier - and they’re captains for a reason - the reason they’re getting sliced and diced every week is player error. Nothing more, nothing less.

The upside?

A problem between your ears is a problem that’s fixed in the classroom, not the weight room. It’s on the coaching staff, and especially defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and the defensive backs coach, to find out what’s not clicking and, um, get it to click.

Which, you know, no pressure, guys, because the Patriots are back on the field on Thursday this week at Tampa Bay.