The Patriots won their sixth straight game on Sunday in Mexico City, improving to 8-2 thanks to a complete domination of the Raiders. While the offense has been putting up gaudy numbers of late, and really for the entire season, more attention needs to be paid to the marked shift in the Patriots defensive effort in the past few weeks.
Torn apart by anyone and everyone in their first four games, the Patriots defense looked like the worst defense in football, and a potential roadblock to the team’s Super Bowl aspirations. In those first four games, the Patriots defense allowed 32 points per game and 456.8 yards per game, both figures that would rank dead last in the NFL today. In fact, they were so bad that, in this millennium, only the 0-16 Detroit Lions have finished a season allowing more points per game than the Patriots did during the first four games, and no team has allowed more yards per game in a single season in the 21st century. The Patriots defense was that bad during the first four weeks, but since that point, we have seen a vast alteration in performance from the much-maligned unit.
Since Week 4, the Patriots defense has allowed 374.8 yards per game, which still isn’t all that good (it would rank them 27th in the NFL this year), but is a major improvement from the hideous effort of the first four weeks. When only looking at the past four games, the Patriots have allowed 343.8 yards per game, which would place them 19th in the league. Also in the past four games, the Patriots have allowed only allowed 217.7 passing yards per game, 129 yards down from their average in Weeks 1-4. This leap is absurd, especially when considering the fact that defensive signal-caller Dont’a Hightower was lost for the season after Week 7, Stephon Gilmore missed Weeks 6-8, and Eric Rowe hasn’t played since Week 5.