Patriots Defensive Woes Resurface After Two-Month Dormancy

The New England Patriots may not often be recognized for having an excellent defense. Statistically, sometimes, they can even be quite poor. But very rarely do they allow very many points. While an early run of games looked like they may have fallen off a cliff in that regard, they quickly righted the ship and held eight consecutive opponents to 17 points or fewer.

That is until last night, when the Miami Dolphins were able to put up 27 points, all the while squandering further opportunities, including a sure touchdown on a deep throw that was dropped. It was clearly the most vulnerable that they had appeared in some time, and it comes at a good time, heading into the Steel City to face the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Patriots, even following last night’s game, have still navigated the waters with nearly a top-five defense in terms of points allowed, averaging 19.2 points against per game, tied for sixth-best in the league. That is just slightly better than Pittsburgh, who after allowing a season-high 38 points now average 19.3 points against per game.

The last time a Patriots defense has allowed 20 or more points per game in a season was in 2013. The last time that they ranked outside of the top 10 in scoring defense was in 2011, when they averaged 21.4 points allowed per game.

This season, they have only allowed 20 or more points in a game five times after last night, and they have lost three of those games. One would imagine that the Steelers will have to score more than 20 points to have a hope of beating the Patriots.

The last time an opponent beat the Patriots (with Tom Brady at quarterback) while scoring 20 points or fewer as the Denver Broncos and their stellar defense in 2015 in the AFC Championship game, holding them to 18 points while scoring 20. The Steelers do not have Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, nor Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, however.

A big piece of the puzzle for the Dolphins to crack 20 points was the running of Kenyan Drake. Even when the Patriots were able to get a man into the backfield, the running back was able to create on his own. The Steelers have such a back in Le’Veon Bell, who has been playing some of his best football of the season in recent weeks.

Another area in which New England’s defense was exploited was in one-on-one coverage matchups. Without a reliable pass rush, Jay Cutler was able to buy time for his receivers, chiefly Jarvis Landry, to beat their man. Well, I suppose Antonio Brown might be able to win some matchups.

Of course, it’s one thing to beat the Patriots’ defense, and another entirely to prevent the Patriots’ offense from beating you. They have only been held to 20 or fewer points twice this season, including last night, and the Steelers’ defense has a number of problems right now.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • whipmeco

    I am not comfortable with the idea that the Patriots are now coming to town in a loss and will have Gronk back and they will be pissed. They will be on a short week however and traveling so there is that.

  • Mister Wirez

    I was thinking watching this game and what if Tomlin changed up the D more this game. With Shazier out maybe play the old Jacksonville 4-3 D with two nose guards and a 2-gap front. Then use Watt and Chickallo as the OLB’s (sack speed & coverage) and VW in the middle. Our corners will have to play some man to man on the receivers and they have to jam them at the LOS while rushing the 4 big men. That O-line of Brady’s looked very suspect to those bigger lineman. Butler could then mix up some blitzes from the backers or safeties. Maybe Sutton being a bigger corner could focus on Gronk along with a linebacker underneath & up the seam.. (again Shazier being out, really REALLY hurts the Steelers in this game).

    They HAVE TO make Brady twitchy and nervous to disrupt that timing-passing game. As the Fins showed everyone last night, that once you get happy feet from Tommy-boy he becomes nervous, sloppy, and inaccurate, then he’ll be hanging his head on the bench, like a baby.

    I dunno, they have to mix it up and do things that the “evil genius” hasn’t seen on tape recently.. I hope Tomlin and the staff have been “in the Lab” since last years AFC-CG. I just don’t think our base 3-4 D with zone coverage will cut it…

    IT NEVER DOES!

  • Kevin artis

    We better be prepared for their pressure of the edge in which the send a safety. He was running free against the Dolphins at one point.

  • Xclewsive

    We shall see what Steelers offense shows up. The Steelers offense needs to be at its best. The Pats defense isn’t the best they’ve seen this year.

  • EdJHJr

    Ya they didn’t have gronk. But did you watch Brady. He falls to the ground like a little girl when the rush is coming

  • mem359

    Normally Cutler can be relied on to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Fortunately, Miami built up enough of a lead that they could afford to score zero in the last quarter.

  • Josh

    Hey, Patriot run D – Rosie Nix plays at one intensity level – good luck trying to top it.

  • Goosemohr

    Man I was thinking the same thing. Three down lineman and deebo rushing….have watt on gronk whever he goes…if he lines up tight jam him and rush have sutton over top…lines up outside jam him and play zone. hell if durpee needs to be on field have him inside to play zone with man on everyone else. the key is if hayden plays. but jam gronk with a linebacker on every play and have at least three big guys on line every play with a linebacker rushing.

  • AndyR34

    Matthew – “the Steelers’ defense has a number of problems right now“…may be the understatement of the year. 😩

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Pros and cons from watching last night’s game:

    Pros:
    1. The Pats have no pass rush. I expect Ben will have time to pass. And he’ll probably need to.
    2. The Pats are vulnerable to a versatile back. If I’m the Steelers, I’m moving Bell everywhere.
    3. Brady is definitely protecting his knee. When the pressure is in his face, he will play it safe.

    Cons:
    1. The Dolphins played press coverage basically all night and stayed with Cooks. Can the Steelers?
    2. The Pats look much more vulnerable without Gronk. The Steelers won’t have that advantage.
    3. The Dolphins were flying to the ball carriers and receivers and wrapping up. The Steelers will not get off the field on 3rd and short if they cannot tackle well. YAC will KILL the Steelers in this one.
    4. Instead of a fat and happy New England team, the Steelers now face a pissed-off bunch who have ZERO intention of losing two in a row.

    It starts in the trenches. Miami was bullying the Pats’ O-line. But I also noticed the Miami D-line had most success when they did more than bull rush (which I think the Steelers rely on too heavily). Also, Brady’s picks were taken RIGHT in front of his intended receiver. One more step, and those are long completions. Haden is a must in this game.

  • Applebite

    You know what? I’m going to call that game last night an outlier for the Patriots.

    The Steelers better have their act together come kickoff. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Belichick went vanilla on both sides of the ball, and lost that game as a psychological tool for this game. A “you can’t even beat the Dolphins, how are you going to beat a team like the Steelers?” motivator. I suspect that the Patriots are going to come fired up and ready to prove everyone wrong about that performance last night.

  • Ravens Team Gynecologist

    I really enjoyed watching the Pats Offense struggle.

    Little historical tidbit though, in 2010, when the Pats lost to a bad Browns team, the following week went to Pittsburgh and pounded the Steelers.

  • francesco

    The key was getting the offense off the field. Do the Steelers have the defense to stop the Patriots on 3rd down conversions? Maybe. It will depend on Butler and how he is able to disquise man coverage and zone. Our defense is what worries me😊