No one suggests that the Patriots defense is good, or even average. For starters, well, look at the starters. Here was New England’s starting lineup this weekend against the Broncos:
DE Brandon Deaderick DT Kyle Love DT Vince Wilfork DE Andre Carter OLB Jerod Mayo MLB Dane Fletcher OLB Rob Ninkovich CB Devin McCourty FS Matt Slater SS James Ihedigbo CB Kyle Arrington
Casual fans have heard of Wilfork and Mayo, and McCourty was one of the top rookies in the league last season. But don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Deaderick (2010 7th rounder) or Love (undrafted) or Fletcher (undrafted from Montana State) or Slater (5th round draft pick — at wide receiver — who converted to safety in the middle of this season), and it’s not like Ihedigbo (undrafted, special teams ace for the Jets) , Arrington (undrafted, Hofstra) and Ninkovich (5th round pick by New Orleans) are high profile players, either. Now that Andre Carter — New England’s best pass rusher — is out for the season, the situation looks even worse. And among the “name players” on the Patriots’ defense, only Mayo (who missed several games earlier this season) isn’t having a disappointing season.
The Patriots do not have much talent on defense. So it’s not too surprising that the Patriots rank last in the league in yards allowed. But the situation is even bleaker than that. The 1981 Baltimore Colts were one of the worst teams in football history; they’re also the only team that allowed 5800 or more yards in the first 14 games of the season. Well, they were: now the Patriots have joined the list.
But the Patriots total defense is still better than the Patriots pass defense. Until this season, no team had ever allowed more than 3,910 passing yards after 14 games; the Patriots have allowed 4,154.
Part of that historical ineptness is because the Patriots often play with the lead. New England has faced the third highest number of pass attempts this season, and ranks 30th (as opposed to 32nd) in net yards per pass attempt. So instead of having a historically terrible pass defense, it’s probably fairer to just note that they have one of the league’s worst pass defenses. New England’s rush defense isn’t very good — the Pats rank 26th in yards per carry allowed, and because they face so many more passes than rushes, 19th in rushing yards allowed.
But New England ranks 14th in points allowed. That means despite a terrible pass defense and a bad rush defense, the Patriots actually have allowed fewer points than the average team this season. So what gives?