The Patriots defense has been through this before. There have been many occasions over the past several years when things haven't looked good on that side of the ball during the first part of the season. Even back in 2014 when the group had standouts like Darrelle Revis, the Patriots struggled to get stops during the month of September.
But usually the defense continues to improve as the season wears on and Bill Belichick generally has a respectable unit by the time the playoffs role around. That was the case during the regular season last year. After surrendering yards and points at an alarming rate to start the season, New England enjoyed a stretch of eight straight games allowing 17 points or less.
The start to this season may not have been as glaring as last year, but it hasn't been great either. After playing well in the opener against Houston (a 27-20 win) the defense coughed up 31 and 26 points in back-to-back losses at Jacksonville and Detroit. The unit has looked slow at times and hasn't generated much if any pressure on the quarterback.
The question this time around is, will things get better? This week's Samsonite Make Your Case question looks at this topic and asks: Are the problems on defense personnel based or a product of growing pains?
PFW's Andy Hart says …
I look around the Patriots defense and wonder which players are the stars. Is it Stephon Gilmore? Trey Flowers? Dont'a Hightower? They're all good players, but are they standouts who the opposing team has to game plan for? I'm not so sure.
The defense in New England has almost always improved as time goes on but I'm not sure that will be the case this year. The group lacks speed and talent and no amount of scheming is going to cover that up. The front seven can't stop the run and doesn't generate pressure on the quarterback, while the secondary lacks depth and may be getting a bit old on the back end at safety.
I'm sure things will look better but as I see it there's only so much improvement the defense can make with the current roster. Unless there's a significant trade to add some athleticism, the defense will continue to struggle for the balance of the season.
PFW's Paul Perillo says …
I've been somewhat critical of the defense in the past and I've been critical of the group this season as well. But I also believe things always improve as Bill Belichick and his coaches figure out how teams are attacking them and then adjust accordingly. That will happen this year as well.
The Patriots are dealing with a decent amount of turnover on defense, including the loss of coordinator Matt Patricia. Brian Flores is now calling the shots while also trying to oversee the linebackers, and he's dealing with new personnel like Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis and before he went on IR Ja'Whaun Bentley. Those new pieces will take time to acclimate to the system, and eventually things will improve.
In my view the biggest reason for optimism moving forward is Dont'a Hightower. He's a much better player than he's shown thus far, and once he knocks off the rust and returns to form the entire defense will look better. I've been down this road before and I will continue to have faith in Belichick's system.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.