The Patriots defense is off to a fantastic start, allowing just one field goal in their first two games. They're anchored by one of the best cornerbacks in the game, a versatile and athletic group of linebackers and a defensive line that has controlled the line of scrimmage and created consistent disruption.
Yes, it's early, but this appears to be a group without any holes and one ready to compete with the most explosive offenses in the NFL. They're talented, they're deep and they've been dominant.
But how do they rank compared to the best defenses of the Belichick era?
The 2003 defense had high marks across the board. They led the league allowing 14.9 points per game, a best under Belichick, and pitched three shutouts. The 2004 defense wasn't far behind, finishing second in the NFL allowing 16.3 points per game. Both teams also won the Super Bowl, before the days of Tom Brady and the unstoppable Patriots offense.
The early dynasty was built on defense first and was largely responsible for the first three titles. Their front also controlled the line of scrimmage, their linebackers made the big plays and their secondary was so physical the NFL had to change the rules, and even then the Pats defense still sent the best offenses home in the playoffs.
The Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week is: Is the 2019 defense the best of the Belichick era?
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault says…
The similarities to the past defenses are obvious. Both had shutdown corners in Gilmore and Ty Law, the linebacker group of Willie McGinest-Tedy Bruschi-Mike Vrabel and comparable to Kyle Van Noy-Dont'a Hightower-Jamie Collins, and the defensive line features elite disruptors in Richard Seymour and Michael Bennett.
But the safety position and the overall depth is where the 2019 team can distinguish itself. Rodney Harrison is unquestionably one of the best of all time, but the trio of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon surpass what Harrison had in his safety groups. The early years also did not have quality role defenders to the level of 2019. Young, ascending players like Jonathan Jones, Adam Butler and J.C. Jackson did not exist on the early dynasty defenses outside of Asante Samuel.
There's a long way to go, but this Patriots defense has all the pieces and enough depth to overcome injuries. Considering how the NFL is now so geared to help offenses, the kind of domination we've seen so far is unprecedented and could easily make them Belichick's best ever if they can maintain this level of play.
Patriots.com's Paul Perillo says …
These days we have numbers and advanced metrics to analyze and compare just about everything. Based on the first two games of the season there is no need to crunch the stats to see that the Patriots defense has been dominant is just about every way.
But that doesn't mean it will continue, and even if it does there's also more than a little nuance involved in this type of argument. The Patriots played a Miami team that is almost literally trying to lose games and a Steelers club in transition with a banged up Ben Roethlisberger. The Jets now come to town with a third-string quarterback, so the domination figures to continue.
To me, the 2004 defense was as good as it gets, even if the stats don't always say so. That team faced stiff competition and took on any and all comers in all kinds of weather. The results were generally the same every week, and certainly through the playoffs. They were stout up front with Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork and just as versatile and deep at linebacker with Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Tedy Johnson, Roman Phfier and Rosie Colvin. The secondary had Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson and Ty Law before he got hurt midway through the season). They dealt with injuries and just continued to dominate and ultimately won it all.
If this group can maintain it's solid play throughout, then maybe I will change my tune. Until then, I'll stick with 2004 as the benchmark of Belichick defenses.