Most of the blame for the New England Patriots’ 1-4 start has been placed on the offense, and rightfully so. The unit ranks last in the NFL in points scored, and has not found the end zone since the second quarter of Week 3.
However, the other side of the ball also has some room for improvement. One area stands out in particular: turnovers.
Whereas the Patriots’ offense has given the ball away 10 times already this season — tied for third in the league — the defense has registered only two takeaways, and none in the last three games. The resulting -8 turnover differential is the second-worst in football, while the number of turnovers on defense is ranked dead last.
For a team that relies on its defense to build momentum and keep games close, this inability to get the ball back has been an under-the-radar issue.
It also is something de facto co-defensive coordinator Jerod Mayo has addressed with his men.
“I told the guys takeaways come in bunches,” Mayo said on Tuesday. “I don’t care what team you are, sometimes it just takes that one takeaway to get three that game and the next game.”
When it comes to taking the ball away, the Patriots were one of the most prolific teams in the league a year ago. They ranked second behind only the Dallas Cowboys with 30 turnovers, recovering 11 fumbles and intercepting 19 passes.
One year later, the unit has hit a dry spell.
Jabrill Peppers forced a fumble in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles that was recovered by fellow defensive back Marcus Jones. A week later versus the Miami Dolphins, Christian Gonzalez caught the first interception of his career and the last ball taken away by New England’s defense.
The unit did also force a safety in Week 3 when Matthew Judon sacked New York Jets QB Zach Wilson in the end zone but that is the extent of the Patriots’ ball production this year. They did come close to other takeaways — Kyle Dugger almost caught an interception versus New Orleans on Sunday, for example — but all in all the ball has simply not bounced their way so far this season.
Nonetheless, as Mayo pointed out, the Patriots cannot try to force the issue.
“We want the guys to play within the scheme,” he said. “One thing, as a player and as a competitor, when things don’t go well, you want to make a play. Sometimes trying to make a play is at the detriment of the defense when it comes to the integrity and the structure.”
So, can the Patriots do anything differently? Other than being ready to pounce when the opportunity arises, and playing fundamentally sound overall defense, little can be done to increase the number of turnovers.
“As the season goes on, even as a player, there’s a lot of ebbs and flows,” said Mayo. “What I try to relay to the defense is don’t get discouraged. Go out there, and we’ll just do our job.”