Bend Don’t Break is what frustrated fans know as the Patriots’ favored style of defensive strategy. They don’t sell out by sending a ton of pressure, instead they preach not getting beat deep and good tackling. That forces opposing offenses to continually execute, something most of them can’t do for any sustained period without mistakes, whether it’s third-down red-zone stops, takeaways or missed field goals.
Sometimes, often on the first drive of the game, opponents seem to move the ball right down the field, only to stall out and have to settle for a field goal or worse. From there the Patriots’ constriction begins, often aided by turnovers, and that simply gives Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense enough margin to win the game.
But the BDB leaves a bad taste in many dismissive minds. That’s because the Pats always tend to give up yards. In nine of the last 16 seasons they were in the bottom half of the league in yards-per-drive. The last two seasons saw dramatic improvement, with them finishing 7th in 2015 and 8th in 2016, their best back-to-back seasons under Belichick. Only once (2003) were they inside the top five at 4th.
Your eyes are not deceiving you. Teams consistently move the ball on New England’s defense. They just don’t score, and that’s the Bend Don’t Break.
So how does the 2017 team stack up so far? It’s developed from a total Bend AND Break edition early in the season to one far more typical of the last 16 years of Patriots defenses. Let’s take a look:
This team isn’t quite as reliant on turnovers as the 2011 squad was. Their dependance on turnovers from 2010-2012 was largely connected to why they didn’t win a Super Bowl in those seasons. In the three playoff-enders from those seasons the Patriots got exactly zero takeaways.
It’s hard not to draw the comparisons back to those defenses though, since this is the third-bendiest defense since 2001. However this defense continues to trend upward and I’d bet both Break numbers will continue to improve into the top 10. For all five Super Bowl-winning teams the defense was inside the Top 10 scoring.
I don’t think this is a fatally flawed defense like the 2010-2012 defenses were, but I’d still like to see them confound an athletic quarterback like Tyrod Taylor to feel fully confident about any potential playoff opponent.
But it is what it is and the Bend Don’t Break is back and in full effect.