Maybe this is a little too deep for a pregame read, but I dove into the long-term defensive stats of the Patriots under Bill Belichick and found the results really interesting.
Belichick has said in the past that the key stats for a defense are points, third down and red zone, with points being the most important. Entering today’s game, the Patriots are 2nd in points, 29th on third down and 27th in the red zone. The disparity is fascinating, and those stats are fueling the latest debates about how good the Patriots defense is or isn’t.
But when you look back since 2001, the picture that these stats paint isn’t much different than what we have today. In that time the Patriots have averaged 20th in third down defense, 17th in red zone defense, and 8th in points. As you can see from the charts, the third down defense is all over the map, while the points have been a model of consistency.
The media (and yours truly included) have been hammering the third down defense in recent weeks, but maybe it matters just a little bit less than we all think it does. The Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams weren’t always lock down on third down – 2001 (15th), 2003 (7th), 2004 (21st) and 2014 (16th).
When you compare those rankings to points allowed — 2001 (6th), 2003 (1st), 2004 (2nd), and 2014 (8th) — the latter seems far more important, even though the Patriots have only dropped out of the top-10 in points allowed in three seasons under Belichick (2002, 2005, 2011).
Obviously you always want to get off the field on third down and to prevent touchdowns in the red zone, but maybe we (I) should stop obsessing over those two stats like they’re the end-all, be-all of statistics.