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Patriots defense isn’t elite, but it’s become very effective at stopping opponents from scoring

The Patriots defense may give up yards, but have kept opponents from scoring touchdowns of late.

NFL: New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots are currently riding a 6-game winning streak, in large part due to improvements on the defense. The Patriots in six consecutive games had held the opposition to 17 or fewer points while the offense has scored at least 19 points in each of those contests. In the first four games of the season, the Patriots defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed as teams were easily able to put up points against a unit that saw a lot of turnover in the offseason. The Patriots defense struggled late in games against the Chiefs, Texans, and Panthers, which led to 2 losses and nearly a 3rd if not for late game Brady heroics. Since then, the Patriots defense has turned the corner in terms of keeping opponents off the scoreboard.

Improving Defense

Weeks LOS/Dr TD% TO% YPP PPD Yards/Dr Red Zone
Weeks LOS/Dr TD% TO% YPP PPD Yards/Dr Red Zone
1 to 4 25.9 31.1% 11.1% 6.89 2.69 40.60 63.6%
5 to 11 23.0 15.3% 10.2% 5.64 1.27 37.19 42.1%

The Patriots defense should not be confused for being an elite defense. The defense doesn’t have a superstar caliber player and no one on the unit is having a Pro Bowl caliber season, but they’ve learned to play together. The overall strength of the unit comes in the secondary, which doesn’t have a shutdown corner but has players who play fundamentally sound and don’t give up huge plays. The Patriots scheme leans towards more players in coverage than pressure, which is why the team rarely blitzes at all. That means while the Patriots are going to give up yards and opponents are going to convert a couple first downs, as the field starts to shrink the windows get tighter and the Patriots walk away with Red Zone stops. With an offense that has the talent to put up touchdowns on every drive, that’s good enough.

The Patriots have been able to set up their defense to succeed in large part due to a top-notch offense and special teams unit, a great example of complementary football. The Patriots are first in the NFL in defensive starting field position in large part due to outstanding coverage units, which has improved from the opponent’s 25.9 in the first four weeks to the 23.0 since. In addition, the defense is giving up 3 fewer yards per drive and 1.5 fewer per play. That has resulted in teams not being able to put points on the board, thanks to a red zone defense that has only allowed touchdowns on 8 of 19 (42.1%) red zone attempts, although the Patriots have had some lucky breaks every now and then. Since Week 5, the Patriots defense has cut their TD rate in half from 31% to 15% and that’s had a similar effect on points per drive allowed, which has dropped from 2.69 through Week 4 to 1.27 since Week 5.

The Patriots offense does have 4 turnovers in that time span, although the defense has only allowed 7 points off turnovers (1.75 per drive) because all 4 turnovers came on the opponent’s side of the field. The Patriots offense has not turned the ball over since Week 6 and over that time period, the Patriots have allowed only 11 points per game and 1.22 per drive. With an offense that’s scoring points almost at will and not turning the ball over, that puts teams behind the scoreboard and forces them to be more predictable and easier to stop. As the defense does a good job of keeping opponents out of the end zone, the Patriots offense and special teams should be able to carry the Patriots over the finish line.