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Patriots have a clutch defense, but still on pace for second-fewest takeaways under Bill Belichick

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No other team is better at forcing key turnovers- and yet the Patriots are still middle of the pack in takeaways.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It’s been a year of memorable takeaways by the New England Patriots defense. There was that time Duron Harmon intercepted Ben Roethslisberger to secure a Patriots victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. And there was that time Duron Harmon intercepted Deshaun Watson to ensure the Patriots defeated the Houston Texans. Oh, and there was that time Duron Harmon intercepted Matt Moore to clinch a Patriots win over the Miami Dolphins.

And there was that time when Duro- oh, sorry, Jonathan Jones intercepted Philip Rivers so the Patriots could beat the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Patriots have forced seven turnovers after the two minute warning in 2017 and they have forced six turnovers in the red zone. The New England defense has been clutch and stepped up when the team needed them most.

“I think it's just continuing to play, you know?,” Patriots free safety Devin McCourty said about playing at a high level by the goal line. “It's obviously something we work on. Obviously not the turnover part but red area. Situation is something we spend a lot of time on so I think when we get in the red area everyone realizes the drive is not over.

“We spend time, we talk about the red area so we're trying to get stops. A lot of times if you can get a turnover that's a seven-point swing. You take the field goal off the board, touchdown off [the board]. It's a huge play. I think it's just been more about executing whatever our game plan is and a couple times we've come away with turnovers and they've been huge.”

The Patriots six takeaways in the red zone lead the NFL, with only the Baltimore Ravens (5) and New York Jets (4) recording more than three. New England also has seven takeaways after the two minute warning, which also leads the NFL.

But for a defense that is so clutch at taking the ball away at crucial junctures, they’ve not been too special at takeaways in general. They have just 18 on the season, which is tied for 18th in the NFL.

The Patriots are on pace for 20.6 takeaways in 2017, which ranks between last (2005, 18 takeaways) and second-to-last (2015, 21 takeaways) in the Bill Belichick era. Those are the only two years that featured worse-ranked defenses by takeaways relative to the league- they ranked 22nd in 2015 and 31st in 2005.

While it’s not too different from the past two Super Bowl winning defenses of New England (25 in 2014; 23 in 2016), it’s still on the bottom end of the Belichick-spectrum. The big difference is also yards allowed. The 2014 defense ranked 13th in yards allowed, while the 2016 defense ranked 8th.

The 2017 defense ranks 29th in yards allowed.

The New England Patriots have been doing enough to win games and rank an impressive 6th in points allowed. Usually the high ranked defenses rank well in either yards or takeaways, or both. The 2017 defense does not rank well in either category, but they keep on creating turnovers at key moments. It’s incredible what can happen if you just “continue to play” until the final whistle.