The New England Patriots defense has started to hit its stride. After already having some encouraging moments over the first four weeks of the season, the unit led by assistant coaches Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo has turned up the heat the last two games.
It started with a shutout win over the Detroit Lions, who entered the two teams’ Week 5 bout as the top-ranked scoring team in the league but were kept off the scoreboard. One week later, this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, the unit surrendered just one touchdown and three field goals en route to celebrating a 38-15 blowout victory.
The recent surge did not come as a surprise to one of the group’s best players: safety Kyle Dugger. On Monday, the third-year man identified the reasons behind the success New England’s defense has had as of late.
“We’re really just starting to be consistent and doing our jobs,” Dugger told reporters. “Being where we’re supposed to be, trusting the guy next to us and where he’s supposed to be, getting out of our roles each and every play, I think that’s really helping us out; just being locked locked in and disciplined.”
The unit improving its consistency, trust and discipline has led to some very good performances by the group as a whole and Dugger in particular. The former second-round draft pick has been a menace, scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery against Detroit and adding an interception versus Cleveland.
Dugger is not the only playmaker on that side of the ball. Whether it is the pass rush led by Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise Jr., the opportunistic play provided by rookie cornerback Jack Jones, or a stout defensive front limiting two of the best rushing attacks in football in back-to-back weeks, New England has again started to enter the conversation about the NFL’s best defenses.
The numbers reflect this. The Patriots were ranked 22nd on defense in expected points added per play after Week 4 (0.048) but have since improved to sixth (-0.083) in a league-wide comparison.
“We always knew that if we did our job and stayed disciplined that we could play well on defense,” said Dugger.
The last two weeks in particular, the unit has been just that. According to the starting safety Dugger, however, there always is some room for improvement left.
“We didn’t really put any ceiling, any, floor, any kind of ‘we want to be this specifically’, but we knew that if we did our jobs and we stayed disciplined and did what we were supposed to do on every play, that we’d have a chance to be good,” he said. “So, we’re definitely still trying to tighten up things and be consistent.”