As you’d expect there’s plenty of panic about the Patriots’ defense after Thursday night’s blow out loss. Last year the defense led the league in points against but people were still worried that they actually were not good. So after giving up the most points and yards under Belichick it’s understandable that the defense is a major focal point of the ire.
Discerning between what problems are real and what problems can be chalked up to the first game of the season on a short week against a good opponent is the key here and when you really break things down the real problems are obvious. Whether or not the Patriots have the personnel at this point to fix those problems will be a point of debate, but I think we can all agree that the defense is always in a somewhat experimental phase in September and that they’re always far more sound down the line, even when they have to throw guys like Joe Vellano and Chris Jones in the heart of their defense early on (2013).
One point that’s very much worth pointing out is how effective Kansas City was at exploiting the communication issues on defense. Eric Mangini said when he was with the Browns, a big offensive focus for going against the Patriots was having multiple shifts and motions that forced the Patriots to adjust their calls. He called the Patriots defense “rule-based” so every movement by the offense required 11 adjustment calls on defense. The more movement the more chance at miscommunication, and the Chiefs seemed to do that repeatedly.
Their pre-snap motion seemed to mix the Patriots up quite a few times, resulting in blown coverages and too many wide open receivers. First, not all teams have the kind of versatility that the Chiefs have in this regard, especially with a mobile quarterback. Second, this communication will improve for the Patriots, whether Dont’a Hightower plays every single game or not.
There are just two simple keys for the defense as we move on to the Saints — win on first down and don’t give up big plays. That’s how simple it is.
The games three biggest scoring plays, both the 78- and 75-yard passing plays and the 58 yard touchdown rush, all came on first down. Skewed by the big plays a bit, but still check out these yards-per-down:
- 1st – 8.74
- 2nd – 4.86
- 3rd – 2.18
The Chiefs were well-balanced on first down with 18 passes and 16 runs, and the Patriots defense just seemed unprepared and unsure of what was coming. The miscommunication fed heavily into this as well.
The Chiefs offense matched up extremely well with the Patriots defense. They had a veteran quarterback who knew how to take what was there, especially short, and that’s where Kansas City killed the Pats. It’s why Alex Smith has always, and will continue to, scare me.
If they were getting smoked on all downs, and especially third, that’d be very much more worrisome. But I thought their pass rush on those rare third-and-longs was a pretty good start. Once they start winning on first down, they can get more pass rushing opportunities. Then come red zone stops, punts… the Bend-Don’t-Break like we love to hate!
The Patriots defense is why I started this blog. I’ve closely followed all their ups and downs since 2007, and the accompanying overreactions from the media and fans. They’re a team that preaches fundamentals over splashy individual play, and it’s been largely effective. But when they’re not in sync they don’t have the pure individual talent up front to overcome it. They’ll be in sync. And then it will look a lot better.
The golden rule is don’t give up big plays, so of course it’s concerning to see two huge passing plays. And again, I’m really not worried about those. If you’re panicking Devon McCourty and Stephon Gilmore are going to be mis-communicating for the next four months you can relax.
Winning on first down should be the immediate focus and from there we’ll see the same old Belichick defense we’re used to.