The Patriots have made a lot of strides as a team over the last month but the area where they have improved the most is defending the run. In a six-game span, New England's rush defense has gone from one of the NFL's worst units, to one of the best. An impressive leap in such a short period of time.
After the Colts bombed the Patriots at Gillette Stadium 40-21, New England ranked 27th in the NFL in rush defense – giving up 128.9 yards per game. Since that loss, the Patriots are 5-1 and now rank sixth in the league defending the run, only giving up 99.4 yards per game. In their last six games only one running back, Larry Johnson, has gone over 100 yards rushing against the Patriots and Johnson did it on 31 carries.
"We've played the run well pretty consistently here for the past couple of games," Bill Belichick said. "We need to keep up the intensity though because we can fall down just as quickly as we bounced back up."
In their last three wins over the Jets, Bills and Buccaneers, the Patriots have allowed their opposition a total of 85 yards on 46 carries. That comes out to an average of 1.8 yards per carry. After their loss to the Chiefs, the Patriots have been much more aggressive on defense and no one can argue with the results so far.
"We continue to take steps in the right direction," Rosevelt Colvin said. "We have a lot more confidence right now and when you have more confidence, it's easier to be more aggressive and get your job done. Guys have taken it upon themselves to improve individually so we could improve as a team."
A big reason for the resurgence of the rush defense is the improvement of two players: Vince Wilfork and Tedy Bruschi.
Wilfork admitted last week that he wasn't playing up to his potential earlier in the season and even he knew he wasn't doing what the Patriots needed him to do for the team to be successful. Wilfork has apparently pinpointed the problem because in the last three games, he has been a man possessed. Against Tampa Bay this past Saturday, the nose tackle continually stuffed the run and blew up plays in the offensive backfield.
"Vince has been working hard all year," Belichick said. "Now he's just playing some of the blocking schemes, technique-wise, he's playing a little bit better than he was earlier in the year…He has strung together several consistent performances and is a hard guy to block in there."
Bruschi returned from his stroke on Oct. 30 against the Bills but it took him a few games to get back into the swing of things. In his first couple of games in the starting lineup, Bruschi was understandably out of position a lot and seemed to wear down in the fourth quarter. The last five weeks, however, have been a different story. In those games, Bruschi has recorded 39 tackles, two sacks and has forced a fumble. Also, just having the defensive leader back on the field has the Patriots defense playing with more passion and fire recently.
"Tedy brings it every game," Colvin said. "Just having him on the field is a lift to our defense and now he's starting to make the plays he's been known for in the past. He's making more and more plays every week."
In order to win a championship, a team needs to stop the run. That's been proven throughout the history of the NFL. Teams that get into the playoffs and can't stop the run go home early. The Patriots defense hasn't only improved in recent weeks, they've been dominating in shutting down their opponent's rushing attacks. That's a positive sign for this team heading into the playoffs.
Colvin believes if the Patriots defense continues to get better over the next couple of weeks, they could be in position to make some noise in the postseason.
"If we continue to improve, hopefully we'll get where we need to be and end up where we want to end up at the end of the year."
NotesBelichick said at his Monday press conference that the team will approach this week's game against the Jets like any other game but he will evaluate resting players in the season finale against Miami once the Jets game is over…While the Patriots have climbed to sixth in the NFL in rush defense, they still rank 30th in pass defense despite their improved play the past three weeks.