Admitting you have a problem, it’s often said, is the first step toward recovery. If that’s the case, then New England’s defense is taking a step in the right direction.
Through the first three games of 2017, the Patriots are surrendering nearly 32 points per game, on average (last in the league), and giving up big plays (those of 20 yards or more) at an alarming rate. Third downs have also been a deficiency for New England’s defense (giving up nearly 38 percent of them).
Not being able to force opponents to punt often enough has contributed to these eye-popping statistics: New England ranks at the bottom of the league right now in average yards per game allowed (461), yards per play (more than 7), as well as the aforementioned points per game. They’re also in the bottom third of the NFL in sacks per pass attempt ratio and red zone percentage.
A year ago at this time, the Patriots enjoyed some of the top spots in the league in these and other defensive categories.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” admitted defensive end Trey Flowers, “and that’s what we’ve been doing in practice – working on us and the fundamentals and tackling, breaking down when you get those opportunities, being aware of third downs, you know, the draws and things like that kind of got us last week and had success on us.”
“We’re not where we want to be right now,” declared linebacker Kyle Van Noy. “That’s even if we were playing lights-out. There are always things to correct, but, it’s the beginning of the season. Guys are still new. Some guys haven’t been here for very long.
“We’re all adjusting to the communication with each other, playing as a new defense. We’ve got a lot of new guys on defense. Just blending it together, that’s what you do every year. We’re getting better and better each week. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be, that’s for sure. But we’re winning and we’re [headed] in the right direction.”
“Yeah, definitely,” Flowers agreed. “That’s one of the things you go through in September. A lot of guys are finding their role and getting to fit in. Keep getting better – that’s the goal.”
Patriots defenders had success getting into Houston’s backfield a week ago, but found considerable difficulty actually taking down the Texans’ rookie QB, Deshaun Watson. This weekend, an even more experienced dual-threat quarterback, Carolina’s Cam Newton, comes to Gillette, and the Patriots are determined not to let him get away as often as Watson did.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Flowers continued, “when you’ve got [the quarterback] right there in the backfield and aren’t able to get him down. We always want to make the play and finish the play. That’s one of the things we tried to focus on in practice. We were in the right spots, had the opportunities, just didn’t finish.”
Despite the appalling numbers, the Patriots believe that what they’ve seen of themselves on film is not a lost cause. There’s time, they maintain, to fix what’s currently ailing the defense.
“Yes, very. They’re correctable things,” added Van Noy. “For sure, you always want to see positives going forward, and I think we have a lot of positives going forward and right now.
“We’re not happy, obviously, with the points and the situation, but we can correct that, and that’s going to be corrected.”
It’s looking more and more like running back Rex Burkhead will miss his second consecutive game. Burkhead, who sustained a rib injury against the Saints in Week 2, has not practiced since then and was the only Patriot not on the field for Thursday’s session.