One of the major problems for last year’s Patriots defense that seems to be rearing its ugly head again this year is the number of plays over 20-yards given up.
With the help of the Pro-Football-Reference.com play finder I took a look back over the last decade, since the first Super Bowl win, to see what the numbers have looked like since the rise and fall of the dynasty defense.
Granted the game is a bit different now, and passing offenses are far more dangerous now than they were when the Pats were winning Super Bowls, but I still found the numbers to be somewhat shocking.
Here are the numbers on plays over 20-yards given up since 2001, broken down per game to give a bit more context. Playoffs are included.
- 2001: 70 = 3.7/game
- 2002: 47 = 2.9/game
- 2003: 53 = 2.8/game
- 2004: 62 = 3.7/game
- 2005: 64 = 3.6/game
- 2006: 69 = 3.6/game
- 2007: 51 = 2.7/game
- 2008: 50 = 3.1/game
- 2009: 55 = 3.2/game
- 2010: 65 = 3.8/game
- 2011: 93 = 4.9/game
- 2012: 22 = 5.5/game
As you can see the numbers were the worst they’ve been in a decade in 2010 and have only gotten worse in the last two seasons.
One thing that is clear is that it’s the pass defense that is the problem. Even in 2011 they gave up just 6 runs of over 20-yards, leaving a staggering 87 passes over 20-yards. Since 2001 they’ve never given up more than 14 runs of over 20-yards and that happened in 2002. So the run defense has been basically unchanged. The issue is defending the deep ball.
Given that the Pats put up their highest sack totals (a somewhat flawed stat to be sure) in 2011 since 2007 you have to think at least a bit more of the focus for this problem has to go on the coverage. Of course the easiest place to start when you’re giving up a lot of long passes is the play of the safeties.
Now you can never read too much into one stat, but these numbers show a clear trend that illustrates a major part of the problems for the Patriots pass defense over the last few seasons. It’s an area to keep track of as 2012 progresses, and hopefully a trend they can reverse.