Patriots Defense On Verge Of Mediocrity

The Patriots defense is far from championship quality. The unit hasn't been strong against either the pass or the run all season and could be headed in the wrong direction -- back to mediocrity.

Mundane Defense on the verge of future collapse!
By Kevin Saleeba

The New England Patriots have skated by thus far with a mundane talent-less defense, but it’s only a matter of time before their “bend-but-don’t-break” way of playing defense in the NFL will soon catch up to them.

Denver Broncos QB Kyle Orton scorched the Pats secondary with 35 completions on 48 attempts for 330 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. Denver also punished the Patriots on the ground averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 25 attempts for 103 yards.

It’s not that they’re a bad defense; they’re just not championship caliber. The Patriots defense is playing a vanilla 4-3 defense with mostly zone coverage. With the lack of a strong linebacker corp., the Patriots have been forced to play a 4-3 with the strength of the defense on the line. The hope of the coaching staff is to mask their obvious weakness at linebacker.

Leading up to this season, the Patriots have been mainly running the 3-4-defense since the 2003 Super Bowl season. When the Patriots ran the 3-4, it allowed their defensive ends to become standup linebackers so they could cover passes while three linemen rushed the passer. It also allowed a linebacker to be designated as a blitzer, like Lawrence Taylor did so well for Bill Belichick’s Giants defenses in the 80’s and most recently with Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest serving this role for the Patriots for so many years during the New England dynasty this decade. Whether the linebacker is rushing the quarterback or dropping in pass coverage, this simply kept the opposing offenses guessing.

With an inexperienced and less talented linebackers and a completely new secondary, Bill Belichick has been forced to switch back to the 4-3 this season while sitting back in zone coverage. They don’t have the players the caliber of Seymour, Vrabel or McGinest to pull an effective 3-4 defense anymore. The advantage in the 4-3 is a balanced defense that can meet most challenges from opposing offenses, but it becomes much more predictable as compared to the more exotic 3-4. Unless the Patriots send in a safety or corner on a blitz, there just isn’t much of a pass rush to put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, evident last week when Orton picked them apart on several short passes.

The other problem with their 4-3 front, there seems to be gaping holes for running backs to shoot through. The Patriots seem to be having trouble filling these holes.

On running plays, the 3-4 can be effective when the defensive lineman tie up the offensive line allowing the linebackers to fill in the gaps and make the tackles. With a strong nose tackle like Ted Washington in 2003 and Vince Wilfork ever since, as well as a pro bowler in Richard Seymour on the line and Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison filling the gaps, it’s no wonder why the Patriots ran the 3-4 better than anyone for so many years.

With Peyton Manning and the Colts passing attack and the Dolphins beastly running attack and “Wildcat” offense looming, unless the Patriots can find a way to spice up their defensive looks and remedy their problems, the levy will burst soon.

Is there a remedy out there? Without better personnel though, there’s no chance this defense gets better. It can only get worse. The next Seymour, Vrabel, Bruschi, and Harrison are not on this current Patriots roster and they are not walking through that locker room door anytime soon; just a 40-year-old Junior Seau. Don’t bother chilling the champagne.

Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former New England beat writer, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin here.
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