As the New England Patriots start their preparation for the upcoming game against the New York Jets, the team will have to focus on one important aspect on the defensive side of the ball — one that has not worked particularly well the last two weeks: tackling fundamentals. While usually among the surest tacklers in football, the Patriots’ defenders struggled to finish takedowns during their losses against the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills.
In total, according to advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus, New England has missed 19 tackle attempts over those two games. For comparison, the Patriots did not have a worse two-game stretch since the 2017 playoffs when they missed 21 tackles in the AFC Championship Game (6) and Super Bowl (15) combined. Needless to say that this is an area the team needs to address heading into its game versus the Jets.
So, what do the Patriots have to do in order to get back on track? For head coach Bill Belichick, the answer to that question is a simple one as this exchange from a media conference call earlier this week illustrates:
Q: What could you do differently to cut down on some of the missed tackles that you guys have had over the last couple weeks?
BB: Better fundamentals.
Q: What exactly goes into that?
BB: All the tackling fundamentals that are involved. It’s a long list – leverage, tackling, technique, finish.
The Patriots’ tackling issues first popped up in Week 7, when New England was unable to finish 11 attempts during its 33-6 loss against the 49ers. During last Sunday’s 24-21 defeat in Buffalo, eight more missed tackles were added to this total. While the Patriots are still among the premier teams in the NFL when it comes to tackling throughout the season — only two others have missed fewer than their 35 tackles — the recent trend is worrisome.
Just look at it from this perspective, as pointed out by Zack Cox of NESN: The Patriots have a have a 50-9 record (.847) since 2016 when missing fewer than eight tackles; they are only 11-11 (.500) when missing eight ore more. That, of course, is what happened in each of the last two games for New England’s defense.
The problem is not tied to one player in particular, of course, but there are two that still stand out considering that they are responsible for two-fifths of them and integral to guarding the second and third levels of the Patriots’ defense: linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and safety Devin McCourty missed four tackles each the last two weeks after only missing one and two, respectively, before the game versus San Francisco.
This may only be a temporary bump in the road for either player, as they have shown an ability to finish tackles in the past. That being said, if they and New England’s defense as a whole want to return to their previous levels of play, getting more consistent in the tackling department would go a long way.