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The Patriots defense is better against the big play than the Chiefs game might make you believe

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While New England surrendered two big plays against Kansas City

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

For the New England Patriots defense, its game against the Kansas City Chiefs was a tale of two halves. In the first, Brian Flores’ unit was able to limit one of the NFL’s most explosive offensive groups to just nine points while also registering two takeaways. In the second, however, the Chiefs were seemingly able to score at will, with two long Kansas City touchdown passes a perfect example for the Patriots defense’s final 30 minutes of play.

The two scores – a 67-yarder to Kareem Hunt in the third quarter and a 75-yarder to Tyreek Hill in the fourth – were the biggest but not the only big plays New England surrendered on Sunday night. In total, the Patriots gave up six plays of more than 20 yards against a team that was tied for the league lead in explosive production coming into the game. As a result, the unit has now allowed a combined 22 big plays over the course of the season.

The big plays can be broken down as follows:

Patriots big plays given up: weeks 1-6

Play Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Sum
Play Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Sum
Pass 1 5 3 1 4 4 18
Run 1 1 0 0 0 2 4
Sum 2 6 3 1 4 6 22

However, this inconsistency is not necessarily a cause for concern. After all, New England’s defense still is a middle-of-the-pack unit in terms of stopping the big play when compared to the rest of the NFL: the Patriots rank as 12th best team in the league in this area with a per-game average of 3.7 big plays given up. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, the defense is not as bad at giving up chunk plays as the Chiefs game made it look.

This rings especially true when comparing the Patriots’ 2018 defense to its 2017 version. Last year after the first six weeks, New England ranked 30th in the league at a rate of 5.2 big plays surrendered per contest with a total of 31 given up. The unit bounced back later during the season, however, and finished with a respectable rate of 3.8 explosive plays given up per game – good enough for 20th in the NFL.

If the 2018 Patriots develop in a similar way, their defense could once again become one of the league’s stoutest in stopping big plays from happening. What should also help is that just two of the eight teams New England will still face during the regular season currently rank in the NFL’s top half when it comes to producing big plays themselves: the Pittsburgh Steelers (4th) and the New York Jets (11th).

The Chiefs are a unique team due to the talent they have at quarterback and the speed they possess at the receiving positions. New England will not face such a challenge again until this season – at least before the postseason starts. And until then, the team’s defense has plenty of time to continue improving this part of its game.