The New England Patriots have played some impressive football during their five-game winning streak, with the defense in particular standing out. The unit has allowed only 50 points over its last five games, with a mere 13 of those coming in the last three contests combined.
The final of those saw a 25-0 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football — the 13th shutout of the Bill Belichick era. Not having allowed a single points in 19 straight possessions, the Patriots defense is playing lights-out at the moment.
It also is not taking any prisoners, regularly overpowering opponents at the point of attack. Against the Falcons, there were numerous such instances especially in short-yardage situations. New England generated a sufficient push up front, which in turn allowed the second-level defenders to scoop in and make stops.
For head coach Bill Belichick, it all has to do with his team’s defensive mentality.
“I think it’s a real mentality and source of pride for the defense that we’re going to fight for every yard and every inch, and make you earn it,” he said on Friday morning.
“When you make goal-line stops or short-yardage stops — we’ve had a couple examples of that this year — it not only gives you a lot of confidence, but really as a defense, as a unit you can say for yourself, ‘We’re going to fight for every yard and they’re going to have to earn it.’ We’ve done that a few times this year, and I think the players take a lot of pride in it.”
Belichick referred to those type of plays as building blocks for the entire unit, while simultaneously acknowledging that his team struggled in this area in 2020. One year later, it is as stout as any in football — not just when it comes to short-yardage plays but overall defense against both the run and the pass.
Make no mistake, this Patriots defense is among the best in the NFL right now.
“I don’t want to brag too much but I feel like we have one of the best defenses in the league,” said cornerback J.C. Jackson. “We have a good pass rush and guys up front that are doing good this season. The secondary has always been pretty good and we are starting to build chemistry.”
The Patriots’ interception leader — he notched his sixth of the year against Atlanta — Jackson has played a big role in the unit’s recent success. The same goes for its most disruptive front-seven defender, linebacker Matthew Judon.
Setting a new career-high with 10.5 sacks on Thursday, the free agency acquisition has adapted well to the New England’s defense. And not only that: he has become a tone-setter for the entire unit.
“We want to be a-holes on the field but good guys off the field. Make sure we don’t get penalized. We play within the rules, but we’re a nasty group. That’s how we like to play and that’s how we have to play in order for our team to win,” Judon said after the game in Atlanta.
“We have to believe that every week, and we have to play like that every week. It doesn’t matter what everybody thinks as long as we think that. You all do the numbers and all that stuff. We have to play with confidence — extreme confidence — and prepare not to let anybody score.”
The Falcons found that out first-hand on Thursday night.